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What Does a New Employment Deal Mean for Delta Pilots and the Airline Industry?

In a positive move for the airline industry, Delta Air Lines and its pilots' union, Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), have reached an initial agreement to raise wages by up to 30% over four years. The deal, which still needs to be approved by the union and ratified by pilots, has already been praised by airline experts as setting a new template for industrial relations.

Airline crews and unions across the industry had been pushing for higher wages and better work schedules with many, such as Southwest and American Airlines, announcing that they would start picketing in the last six months.

In October Delta pilots voted to join the picketers if a deal was not struck but in mid-November, it was announced that Delta and the union were pushing towards a deal.

The issues surrounding pay and schedules stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic with lockdowns and international travel bans majorly impacting flight schedules and closing operations worldwide.

Although airlines have been slowly returning to profitability, a shortage of trained pilots, coupled with inflationary pressures pushing up oil prices, means that the industry’s two biggest expenses, labour and fuel, have risen quickly.

The “agreement-in-principle,” that has been reached between Delta and ALPA will see the airline pay a cumulative $7.2 billion over four years, 25% of which will be spent on improving pilots' quality of life.

Photo: Andy Cross/ Denver Post/ Getty Images

The initial changes will include an 18% pay rise on the day the contract is signed, then a 5% increase in the following year and two 4% rises in the subsequent two years. Additionally, pilots will be offered a one-time payment of 4% of 2020 and 2021 pay on top of a 14% payment of 2022 pay.

A Delta spokesperson said, “We are pleased to have reached an agreement in principle for a new pilot contract, one that recognizes the contributions of our pilots to Delta’s success.”

The deal could offer a template for other potential airlines such as United and American, who have so far failed to reach one. Robert Isom, American Airlines CEO explained that if an agreement is reached the company will take it into account during their labour negotiations.

He said, “We will take other carriers’ ratified agreements …into account and update our pay proposals quickly when details are known.”

Similarly, a pilot for American Airlines told Reuters that the Delta deal is “going to be the benchmark” for the industry as a whole.

As things stand, Delta has offered its pilots pay rises at least 1% larger than United’s and American’s, putting pressure on its competitors to follow suit if they want to retain their pilots.

Delta has a strong track record when it comes to treating its pilots fairly. During the pandemic it was one of the only carriers, along with Southwest Airlines, not to furlough a single employee involuntarily. American Airlines and United, meanwhile, furloughed over 32,000 workers before an aid package was agreed by Congress.

Since then, Delta has been on a mission to restore normal flight schedules following a difficult summer after the pandemic, which saw many airlines struggling to cope with increased demand. The airline hired 4,300 new flight attendants in 2022 and is looking to double that figure in 2023, as well as hiring more pilots and ground crew.

Photo: Reuters

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