Delta Air Lines Pilots must choose between Furloughs or Paycuts

Company proposal is only in early talks with the Pilot Union

Delta’s pilots can avoid furloughs if they agree to paycuts in the form of a reduction of the minimum pay guarantee. This, according to a Delta-pilot memo, seen and reported by Reuters, as well as seen on CNBC News. We have not seen the memo ourselves.

The company-proposal is not agreed upon by the Delta-pilots

It is important to note the following about this memo:

1. The memo is NOT anything that the Delta Master Executive Council (MEC) (pilot union) has agreed to at this time.

2. The memo is only an OPENING POSITION, presented to the Delta union, for possible further discussions about the company-proposal.

3. Pilots would first have to cast their votes on any company proposal that changes or amends or adds to a pilot union contract before new employment language can take effect.

Only time can tell if this furlough versus paycut proposal from Delta will fly.

Delta management proposal

The airline is proposing a reduced minimum guarantee pilot pay by 15% for 12 months. In exchange, the company can guarantee no pilot furloughs for one year.

Delta seeks to cut pilots’ minimum pay. YouTube.

The Delta pilot memo: Furloughs or Pay cuts, what shall it be?

Delta’s Senior Vice President of Flight Ops John Laughter said in the memo,

Delta is “committed to preventing involuntary furloughs for as many, if not all, Delta people. Our approach is to spread the work of a smaller airline among all our pilots to preserve all jobs – that would be unheard of in our history.”

Laughter said the Delta pilots are currently getting paid for more hours than actual hours flown. The average actual flying hours of Delta pilots for June was about 10. July will experience about 15.5 hours flown for the entire month.

Laughter further said,

“Forward bookings have stalled as infection rates in parts of the U.S. spike and anxiety over the virus rises. Demand is still down about 80%, and we don’t expect to see measurable improvement until the U.S. infection rates fall again.”

Either way hurts

Of course, furloughs and paycuts would both hurt the Delta pilots. However, the company is trying to find ways to mitigate as many furloughs as possible by proposing solutions to employee expenses.

Furloughs hurt junior pilots, as they would become unemployed. In the airline pilot hierarchies, job protection is always based on seniority (date of hire). The last pilot hired is the first one to get furloughed. Pilots are always getting furloughed in reverse seniority order.

These junior pilots can avoid getting furloughed, at least for the next 12 months, if the majority of the pilots agree to take that 15% pay cut from the minimum guarantee pay.

The reality of airline pilot paycuts

One sticky issue on many airline pilots when it comes to paycuts is that many airlines traditionally don’t raise the pay-rates again after the initial paycut has been accepted by pilots. The promise of “paying more when the airline is doing better again” requires new pilot contract language when the time comes. Such negotiations can take years.

Thus, the choice between reduced pay or furloughs can be a painful choice either way.

ALPA (Air Line Pilot Association)

Delta pilots belong to the ALPA pilot union, the world’s largest airline pilot association.

A spokesman for Delta’s ALPA leadership said the union met with Delta management on Thursday. The spokesman suggested the airline was choosing “to negotiate in public directly with our pilots.” ALPA believes such (public) negotiating tactics, typical of airline managements, could impede the process with the pilots.

Airline pilot typical minimum guaranteed pay hours

Before the coronavirus pandemic, an average monthly actual flight time for airline pilots in the U.S. was about 72-84 hours of flying per month, depending on the airline and the pilot. Typical minimum monthly pilot pay guarantees are set at around 72 hours. An airline pilot’s pay typically starts upon brake release. Pay ends when the parking brake has been set at the arrival gate.

Featured Image: Delta arriving St. Marteen. Unsplash.

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