Delta Air Lines is ranked second among the world’s largest airlines by the number of scheduled passengers carried, revenue passenger-kilometers flown, and fleet size. Every day nearly 5,000 Delta flights take off, safely connecting people across more than 265 destinations on six continents
Some may still ask, is Delta Air Lines safe? The short answer is yes, the airline is safe. If you’re willing to find out why then keep on reading.
Delta Air Lines in the Early Days of Commercial Aviation
Examining the safety record of a legacy airline such as Delta Air Lines (Delta) requires some consideration for how very long the airline has been in operation. Delta’s history goes all the way back to 1929, when it began operating its first passenger flights over a route stretching from Dallas, Texas to Jackson, Mississippi, via Shreveport and Monroe, Louisiana. Delta’s Travel Air S-6000-B airplanes carried five passengers and were operated by a single pilot.
At that time, commercial air travel was in its infancy and growing rapidly. Most of the technology and industry maturity that yields our very safe and efficient commercial travel system of today were far off in the future.
The Great Depression and World War II severely limited Delta Air Lines’ growth in the 1930s and early 1940s. Passenger flights were suspended numerous times during that period, but the company continued operating, conducting aerial survey services and operating a flight school, and performing extensive aircraft maintenance, repair, and overhaul services.
Delta always managed its home airport of Selman Field, in Monroe, Louisiana, an example of how the early airlines had to be involved in the research, development, and implementation of the navigation technology and aviation infrastructure necessary for the establishment of safe and efficient airline services.
It was not until “lessons learned” from the massive amount of military aviation activity during World War II could be implemented that the airline industry and governments were able to slowly develop the very safe air travel system we enjoy today.
Delta Air Lines’ Strong Safety Culture
Delta Air Lines has always had one of the strongest “safety” corporate cultures among all U.S. airlines. Over the years Delta has achieved many safety “firsts” in the airline industry.
In 1954, Delta was the first airline to supplement visual inspection of aircraft parts with a portable X-ray machine to examine interior structures. In 1991, Delta was the first to implement an online aircraft maintenance information system in the airline industry, called Technical Operations Publishing System (TOPS). Then, in 1998, Delta was the first airline to install automatic defibrillators on board all of its aircraft.
Finally, in 2016, Delta’s pilots began using the Flight Weather Viewer app which provides pilots with real-time graphics of turbulence observations and forecasts on the flight deck. Setting Delta’s app apart from similar technology, the data is customized by aircraft type and is available in real-time via Gogo’s in-flight wi-fi network, instead of through the traditional ACARS digital datalink system in place since the late 1970s. Air turbulence is one of the leading causes of inflight injuries to aircraft passengers and cabin crew.
For many years during the decades of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, Delta was home for many former U.S. Navy pilots after they either separated or retired from active military service. This ensured Delta had a core group of highly experienced pilots with many accumulated flying hours in high-performance aircraft and in all weather conditions. This safety culture permeated Delta’s workforce, resulting in an extremely low rate of incidents compared to competitor airports.
Over a decade ago, the newspaper USA Today listed Delta as the second safest airline in 2010, based on the rate of fatalities and incidents. There is no indication since that time that anything has changed to lower Delta’s high rating. Indeed, Delta Air Lines has only averaged two incidents per year since that time, with zero incidents occurring in 2020 or 2021, according to the Aviation Safety Network database, which compiles statistics gathered from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Airline Safety Factors
Four broad factors that affect airline safety. These include:
- Human factors (pilot error, crew coordination, training, physical factors, and operating procedures)
- Mechanical failure (FAA standards, effective procedures, training, and due diligence when beginning to use new aircraft, components, and systems)
- Weather (including developing effective policies and procedures to avoid the hazards of adverse weather)
- Miscellaneous (air traffic control, wildlife, airport operations, and terrorism/criminal activity)
All airlines have a direct duty and responsibility to their customers/passengers for eliminating or mitigating hazards from the first three factors, and training and company culture can help mitigate hazards posed by the elements of the fourth factor.
Delta Air Lines, as a major carrier, has the vast resources and skilled employees necessary to address airline safety in depth. In fact, given the pervasive safety culture in the aviation industry, the major U.S. carriers make significant contributions to overall airline safety every day.
Delta Air Lines Has a Modern Fleet
Delta has a fleet of over 860 aircraft, with an average age of 14.8 years. Delta operates a variety of Airbus aircraft, including variants of the A220, A319, A320, A321, A330, and A350. Airbus aircraft represent just under half of its fleet. Boeing aircraft operated by Delta include variants of the Boeing 717, 737 757, and 787. These aircraft types are 56 percent of its fleet. Delta is one of only two airlines worldwide operating the Boeing 767-400ER.
Delta operates the largest fleets of the Airbus A220, the Boeing 717, the Boeing 757, and the largest passenger fleet of the Boeing 767 worldwide. Narrow-body aircraft comprise about 84% of its fleet, with the remainder wide-body aircraft.
The airline has approximately 238 aircraft currently on order, with deliveries occurring in 2025. Over 100 of the new aircraft will be replacing older aircraft, and the average age of Delta’s fleet will be reduced significantly.
Delta Air Lines Is Certified by the FAA
Delta Air Lines is authorized to operate scheduled commercial passenger air service under Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) Part 121 Certification, which outlines the rules and requirements the company must adhere to in order to act as a scheduled airline.
Delta Air Lines Incidents, Accidents, and Allegations
Given the sheer size, scope, and volume of Delta Airiness operations, it is understandable that a variety of safety incidents are bound to occur over time. Another recent safety issue that has arisen is the number of incidents of intoxicated pilots, which was experienced by major U.S. large carriers including Delta, United Airlines, and American Airlines.
At the same time, no major U.S. air carrier has experienced a fatal accident since 2009. This makes these airlines some of the safest airlines in the world.
Summary: Is Flying With Delta Air Lines Safe?
As a pioneering legacy major air carrier, Delta Air Lines has a demonstrated record of many decades of safe and efficient flight operations. Delta safely transports literally hundreds of millions of passengers each year, on almost two million flights annually across the globe, with very few incidents.
As a major U.S. carrier, Delta has contributed immeasurably to the large safe, and efficient airline system we enjoy today. Given Delta Air Lines’ sheer size, long years of operation, and diligence of its management team, Delta is a very safe airline to fly.