MIAMI – Delta Air Lines (DL) and the union representing its Pilots negotiated a tentative cost-cutting agreement that would avoid furloughs until January 1, 2022, the union said late on Thursday.

According to Reuters, Delta MEC, a subsidiary of the Air Line Pilots Association, said that the agreement, which still requires approval from almost 13,000 Delta Pilots, will decrease the monthly minimum guaranteed hours by 5%.

In June, DL announced it would send furlough notices to more than 2,000 Pilots to prepare them for such action. However, in September, DL reached an interim agreement with the bargaining committee of its Pilots’ union to reduce the number of furloughs by 220, taking the new total number of job cuts to 1,721.

Southwest Airlines Unveils New Look with Heart. Photo Credit: Stephen M. Keller

Recent Airline-Union Deals to Avoid Furloughs

In July, in a letter sent to employees, Southwest Airlines (WN) CEO, Gary Kelly said the carrier would not furlough employees after the CARES Act expired. The CEO also said WN would also not cut pays or benefits. However, a quarter of WN employees (17.000) did agree to take voluntary leave a few days earlier.

Then, in September, the Airline Pilot’s Association announced that Pilots at United Airlines (UA) voted in favor of the Pandemic Recovery Letter of Agreement, canceling 2,850 scheduled furloughs. In order to do this, UA and its Pilots agreed to spread flying hours among the aviators. In addition, the agreement offered Pilots over the age of 50 early separations. 

Finally, on October 2, Mesa Airlines (YV) announced it would avoid employee furloughs in 2020 after reaching an agreement with the Air Line Pilots Association. YV has approximately 3,400 employees.

Pilots after deplaning. Photo: Chris Sloan

How Pilot Furloughs Work in the US

When it comes time to furlough, airlines do so according to Pilot seniority. They will not furlough by aircraft or base or anything else, but by seniority number. According to US-based Pilot Juan Brown, “there’s only one thing of importance in the industry, and that is your seniority number as a Pilot for the airlines; your seniority number determines everything and determines the quality of your entire career.”

A seniority number is simply the date a Pilot was hired by a specific airline in conjunction with how old he or she was on that date, as airline Pilots have mandatory retirement at age 65. Now, there are “a bunch of different aircraft and Pilots that each require an individual type certificate rating to fly, and we have to marry that together with the union seniority system,” says Brown.

This process is done mainly through a four-part bid status that consists of the following:

  • The aircraft.
  • The seat: Captain, or First Officer.
  • The base (as each airline has different pilot bases throughout its system).
  • Whether it’s a domestic or international qualification.

The fourth one is less important, as most Pilots will eventually be internationally qualified. This three-part bid status that Pilots need to satisfy is what creates this cascade of seniority. As a result, the best paying jobs are those of widebody Captains of the highest seniority at the top of the list. Most junior Pilots end up at the bottom of the list as Narrow body First Officers (FO) and thus set for being furloughed first.

Featured image: Above Wing Agent 2018 Uniform. Photo: Delta Air Lines.