Delta Air Lines shrinks furlough numbers and delays further decisions until November

Atlanta-based Delta Airlines and pilot union the Air Line Pilots Association agreed on Sept. 29 to furlough fewer pilots and extended further furlough decisions until November. 

The agreement reduces the number of furloughed pilots as predicted earlier by 200, from roughly 1,900 to 1,721. Some pilots were also lured by early retirement options offered by the airline to cut labor costs. 

Both the airline and the pilot’s union believe this agreement will allow for more time to lobby Congress on passing more relief for the travel industry. Congress and the Trump administration have yet to agree on a broader relief package that includes funding for airlines. 

“This move will provide time as we continue to lobby for a clean extension of the CARES Act and Payroll Support Program and resume our negotiations with Delta,” the union told CNBC.

“While we’re also watching the progress of the possible CARES Act extension, it is important that we reach an agreement now that spreads the work of approximately 12,000 active pilots across a network schedule that in Summer 2021 only requires about 9,500 pilots to fly it,” John Laughter, Delta’s senior vice president of flight operations, wrote in a memo. 

He added, “The recovery won’t be over in six months, so sharing the available work is the only way to avoid furloughs altogether.” 

Since the coronavirus, Delta Air Lines has reduced travel, both domestically and internationally. 

This October through November, Delta will suspend flights to the following domestic cities: 

  • Bangor, ME 
  • Worcester, MA, alongside prominent vacation spots Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket 
  • White Plains, NY
  • Erie and Wilkes Barre, PA
  • Fort Smith, AR
  • New Bern, NC
  • Peoria, IL
  • Flint, MI
  • Lincoln, NE
  • Williston, ND
  • Alaska cities Juneau, Ketchikan, and Sitka
  • Cody, WY
  • Aspen, CO
  • Santa Barbara, CA
  • Lihue, HI
  • Providence, RI

West Yellowstone, ND will suspend in November. 

In June, Delta restricted flights to roughly 60 percent capacity in compliance with social distancing measures. In early September, Conde Naste Traveler noted that the airline set the industry standard for a COVID-19 response. 

“This has been a year of firsts for everyone, including the airline industry. For the first time ever it held its middle seats open, required passengers to wear masks on board, and gave fliers two years to rebook canceled flights,” said the article. “And the first carrier to enact most of these measures was Delta—but maybe more importantly, it was also the first to tell customers what it was doing.”

On Sept. 25, the Air Carrier Worker Support Extension Act was introduced to the Commerce Committee by its chairman, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). 

“Maintaining a strong national air transportation system is critical for today’s economy and the continued recovery,” said Wicker in support of the legislation. 

If passed, this legislation would provide roughly $30 billion for airlines, including cargo air carriers. 

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