United Gets Deal With Pilots, Delta Seeks 1-Year Pay Cut

United Gets Deal With Pilots, Delta Seeks 1-Year Pay Cut
In this file image a pedestrian walks by two United Airlines planes that are parked at San Francisco International Airport. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

ATLANTA—Delta Air Lines is asking pilots to take a 15 percent cut in minimum guaranteed pay for one year, saying that could help the airline avoid layoffs when federal payroll aid runs out in October.

An executive said in a memo to pilots Friday that Delta must shrink because of a steep drop caused by the coronavirus pandemic. John Laughter, Delta’s senior vice president of flight operations, said the airline’s approach “is to spread the work of a smaller airline among all our pilots to preserve all jobs.”

The Air Line Pilots Association said the proposal was premature. The union said Delta should first see how well voluntary measures work, such as employees taking partially paid leave. The union was also upset that Delta went directly to its members to describe a proposal that apparently was made to union negotiators earlier this week.

Separately, the same union reached an agreement with United Airlines on buyouts and leaves of absence aimed at reducing the need for furloughs. The agreements now go to pilots for approval.

Last week, United sent warnings to 2,250 pilots that their jobs could be eliminated in October, when the airline’s $5 billion in federal payroll aid ends. Union official Todd Insler said there could be more such notices next year.

The Delta proposal and response from the union illustrate the pressure facing airlines and their employees as a hoped-for recovery in air travel seems to be stalling. U.S. air travel dropped 95 percent but was recovering slightly until flattening out in July, as new coronavirus cases surge across the South and Southwest. The Transportation Security Administration screened 706,164 people at airport checkpoints Thursday, down 74 percent from the same Thursday a year ago.

“We don’t expect to see measurable improvement until the U.S. infection rates fall again,” Laughter said. Delta has already scaled back a plan to add more flights in August–it will add 500 instead of 1,000. Other airlines are also trimming growth plans.

Delta has sent notices to more than 2,500 of its 14,000 pilots warning that they could be furloughed–laid off with rehiring rights–when the airline’s $5.4 billion in federal payroll aid runs out on Oct. 1. About 1,700 Delta pilots have taken buyouts and will leave the company, Laughter said in his memo.

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