Delta CEO talks Colonial Pipeline, travel demand, opening up middle seat

About 60% of Delta customers have told the airline that they are fully vaccinated

Delta CEO Ed Bastian said the airline is currently monitoring the situation with the Colonial Pipeline, which is working to restore its service after a cyberattack by Russian ransomware group DarkSide

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"We’re staying in close contact with the people at Colonial," Bastian told "TODAY" on Wednesday. "Right now, we’re not having any impact at Delta. We have sufficient supply in our stations. This is the reason we carry extra supplies in the event of a short-term outage. They’re telling us that they expect the supplies to be back on hopefully by the end of the week and as long as those predictions come true hopefully we’ll be OK."

Colonial Pipeline Company connects refineries with customers and markets throughout the Southern and Eastern United States through a pipeline system that spans more than 5,500 miles between Houston, Texas and Linden, New Jersey.

The 5,500-mile pipeline system transports more than 100 million gallons of gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and heating oil per day, or roughly 45% of fuel consumed on the Eastern Seaboard between the Gulf Coast and the New York metro area. 

COLONIAL PIPELINE GAS SHORTAGES WIDEN: STATE-BY-STATE BREAKDOWN

Delta competitor American Airlines recently added stops on some of its long-haul routes to refuel its planes as a result of the cyberattack. The carrier said two daily long-haul flights out of Charlotte, North Carolina, were impacted "due to the fuel supply shortage on the East Coast." However, the airline says the impact is "minimal" compared to its overall flight schedule. 

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One of American's flights from Charlotte to Honolulu, which is normally a direct flight, will stop in Dallas/Fort Worth so customers can change aircraft. The other impacted route, from Charlotte to London, will stop in Boston to receive additional fuel.

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Bastian also said that Delta's bookings over the last few months have tripled, with a "direct correlation" to the ramp up of vaccinations. He warned that those looking to plan spring and summer getaways within the U.S. shouldn’t wait to book travel. As for international travel, Delta expects a "much choppier" return.

"This summer there may be some flights to parts of Europe opened. I know many countries are trying to get opened … but I don’t think you’re going to see European travel start to really open up probably until the fall, but there will be some places to go.," he said. 

Delta recently re-introduced flights to Greece, Spain and Italy. The airline plans to add flights to the United Kingdom in the near future, Bastian said.

FILE - In this May 28, 2020, file photo, a passenger wears personal protective equipment on a Delta Airlines flight after landing at Minneapolis−Saint Paul International Airport, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

In addition, Delta has reopened its middle seat, which was previously blocked off to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. 

"We said that we would keep the middle seat open until customers are comfortable sitting there and the experts tell us it’s the right time to sell," Bastian explained. "We were sold out on our planes right through April. There were no seats available, the demand was strong to be on Delta."

About 60% of Delta customers have told the airline that they are fully vaccinated, and Bastian emphasized that all safety protocols and cleanliness standards remain in place, including masks. 

"So it’s probably one of the safest places you can be is actually onboard an aircraft whether you’re in the middle seat or not," Bastian said. "So we’re ready to go and people want to be on Delta."

On Wednesday, Delta earned the top spot in the J.D. Power North American Airline Satisfaction Study for the first time in more than two decades.