Millions of bees died of starvation and heat stress after Delta Air Lines left them on tarmac: "Absolute tragedy"

Millions of bees died of starvation and heat stress after Delta Air Lines left them on tarmac: "Absolute tragedy"

Beekeeper Sarah McElrea was shocked to learn that her bee shipment had been rerouted and had been kept unrefrigerated.

Beekeeper Sarah McElrea was left shocked and furious after learning that millions of honeybees had died due to the carelessness of Delta Air Lines. McElrea had ordered 200 packages of bees to help assist in pollinating a variety of apple orchards and nurseries as well as for her business Sarah’s Alaska Honey.

The bees were supposed to be sent from Sacramento to Seattle on April 22 and then to Anchorage, Alaska. But the airlines sent the bee shipment to Georgia as there was not enough space in the cargo hold for their bees in Seattle bound plane. From Georgia, they had planned to place them on a larger plane which would then transport them to Alaska however that never happened, reports The Washington Post.

When McElrea was informed about the change in the travel plans, she became concerned about the condition of the bees and thus called a bee swarm hotline and asked a hobby beekeeper in Marietta, Edward Morgan, for help. "It had been really hot outside and the bees needed to be kept cool and they needed sugar syrup to survive," shared Morgan. 


"Sarah told me it was urgent, so I hurried over to the airport with my bee vacuum, my bee boxes and a bunch of other equipment. I had no idea what to expect," said the 56-year-old member of the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association. But when he arrived at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the 56-year-old was left heartbroken as he took a closer look at McElrea’s 800-pound shipment.

As he sifted through some of the dead bees across various boxes he saw there were many packages where all of them were dead.  "I vacuumed up the dead ones, then I saw there were several packages where every bee was dead. I was like, 'Whoa — this is not good,'" Morgan recalled. "These bees aren’t going to make it," he told McElrea. "We came to the conclusion that to save the bees that were left, we’d have to give them away to beekeepers around Atlanta."

70 percent of McElrea's bees ended up dying as they were starved and left on the hot tarmac for hours. While Delta Air Lines quickly issued an apology to McElrea, the 48-year-old said that the airlines rerouted the bees to Atlanta, something she learned when she went to pick up the bees at the Anchorage airport in April 22. She was assured that the bees would be refrigerated white they were rerouted.


"Then somebody moved the bees outside because they thought some of them were trying to escape," she recalled, adding that the bees overheated on the tarmac as a result despite McElrea's multiple calls to get them on a plane to Alaska. When the bees were still there, McElrea decided to contact local beekeepers to intervene.

"I still don’t know the reason why they sat there for so long," said McElrea who is planning on filing a claim in hopes that Delta would pay for her bee replacements, which made up half of her order of the year. "Bees in Alaska are a labor of love — they’re not native here, and it’s a lot of work to get the bees through the winter. About 350 beekeepers depend on us every spring to come through with new deliveries," she explained. 

"We have fruit trees in bloom and people were relying on getting their bees. This has taken a toll, but I’m going to do everything in my power to get new bees up here," she added. "The worst part about it for me is how they suffered, and there was not a single thing I could do about it. People don’t grasp just how dependent we as a species are on honeybees for pollination. And this is just a waste, an absolute tragedy," she told The New York Times.

Representative cover image source: Getty | Photo by Carlo Prearo / EyeEm

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