MIAMI – Delta Air Lines (DL) CEO Ed Bastian was asked by CBS News in a televised interview what needed to happen at DL to keep employees on the job.

The CEO responded, “I certainly don’t know, first of all, what’s going to happen in Washington. It’s been a real roller coaster these last few weeks around stimulus and airline aid and things seem to change by the day, but I certainly hope a new aid package comes for the sake of the 30,000 airline employees.”

“We had almost half the company take unpaid leaves of absence throughout the summer but all voluntarily. Another 20% took early retirement, so as a result of that, they had protected their jobs. For almost all of our workgroups, we will not be facing furloughs come this winter. We are still working with our Pilots Union; they are the lone exception.”

Referring to DL’s current schedule, Bastian said, “I’m getting people who need to get to places to their homes to their loved ones and times of crisis and we think that the government support which has worked for the six months keeping this airline industry intact has been quite effective.”

Bastian also commented that at the present time, “the virus isn’t where we thought it would be when the first CARES Act was passed…Hopefully, the second extension will get us into the spring and then we’ll all be in a much better place dealing with the virus than we are today.”

Photo: Delta Air Lines

Delta Air Lines in the Near Future

When asked how the airline sees itself going forward, the CEO said, “Well right now, at the scale mentioned, we’re at about 30% of prior-year levels, which is dramatic…Travel is starting to slowly pick up. We expect for the upcoming holiday seasons that we’ll get a nice bump, but as you look at confidence, what we’re doing at Delta is to restore travel amongst customers.”

“When you look at our customers, they are telling us about their satisfaction, which is at an all-time high with the initiatives that we have taken, and you look at that combination with the advances in the medical field around vaccines testing, tracing and therapeutics, hopefully in six months time, by the spring, we’ll be in a very different place.”

“I don’t expect we’ll be through this by the spring but we should certainly be in a much better place to start to see a real sustained recovery.”

Photo: Brandon Farris

Is is Safe to Travel during the Holidays?

When asked about the CDC warnings people about not flying for Thanksgiving, Bastion said, “first of all, while we say we’re at 30%, we still have a lot of people traveling this week. We’re going to carry a million people out there in flight, as you might say.”

When asked about how safe it was to get on an airplane, the CEO assured, “today, it’s absolutely safe and I respect the CDC guidance…if you’re at risk, you should not be traveling, but that’s not true for everybody. We have over a million people a week traveling and it is entirely safe.”

“There are a couple of data points on that. Just yesterday, the international airline association came out with a stat and that this year on a global basis, over one billion people have traveled in the year. [Out of] one billion, there are 42 documented cases of transmission of the virus on board aircraft worldwide and almost all of those were in the first couple of months, in January through March, before masks and all the protocols were in place.

The CEO added that at Delta, virtually no documented transmissions over the last few months have been recorded. “We don’t have a single documented transmission of virus spread above our on our planes and we are carrying over a million, so I think people need to understand and look at that.”

Photo: Luca Flores

A New Government Aid Package is Still Needed

This pandemic is devastating the airline industry with commercial air travel down nearly 70% from last year. Last week, US Airlines started furloughing tens of thousands of employees, from the Flight Attendants to the baggage handlers, as mentioned in the CBS interview.

So far Delta Air Lines has avoided any of the furloughs but more than 40,000 employees have taken an unpaid leave of absence and more than 17,000 accepted early retirement and departure packages. Without a new aid package from Washington, the airline may now have to begin furloughs next month.

Featured image: Francesco Cecchetti