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Delta tails in Detroit (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Mateen Kontoravdis)

Delta Air Lines Will Not Furlough Flight Attendants or Ground Employees

In a memo released Tuesday, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian announced there would be no involuntary flight attendant or ground staff furloughs come Oct. 1. Bastian explained that these jobs were saved by the thousands of employees who volunteered to take unpaid time off, opt for early retirement or accept leave packages. While these frontline jobs are safe, it appears the pilot group will still be facing around 2,000 furloughs when the payroll protection funds expire at the end of this month.

No Flight Attendant or Ground Employee Furloughs

When Delta accepted employee payroll aid from the CARES Act back in March, it agreed to the condition not to furlough any employees through Sept. 30. Since then, the company has been doing everything it can to preserve jobs before that condition expires. Efforts include offering leave packages, cross-training ground staff and creating a new Fly On/Off program for flight attendants – a schedule rotation in which employees fly one month on and one month off.

According to the airline, over 40,000 employees took voluntary unpaid time off and about 17,000 accepted leave packages, including early retirement and voluntary separation. Fortunately, this was enough for Delta to get its flight attendant and ground employee staffing under control through summer 2021. While Bastian said that he is sad to see 20% of Delta’s workforce go, he explained that those departures saved thousands of frontline employee jobs

“We had an enormous response to the enhanced early retirement and departure packages that were offered this summer, with 20% of our people choosing voluntary exits. While it is difficult to see so many of our colleagues leave, every one of those departures helped save Delta jobs,” Bastian said. However, the CEO did warn that unless the CARES Act payroll protection fund is extended past its Sept. 30 expiration date, the pilot group will be overstaffed, resulting in 1,921 layoffs.

Will Congress Save Airline Jobs?

While many Delta pilots did accept the company’s early retirement or voluntary separation packages, there will still be an overage of pilots at the end of this month. For weeks, airline union groups have been lobbying Congress to extend the CARES Act payroll protection past its expiration date, but the Senate and the House have struggled to agree on a second stimulus bill. Last week, the Senate did not get the necessary votes to pass a proposed $300 billion COVID-19 relief package that did not include any aid to airlines. So, industry employees are hoping the necessary payroll funds will be included in a compromise bill with the House – something that Democrats, a handful of GOP senators and President Donald Trump reportedly back.

According to a senior administration official, President Trump has “significant concern” about the future of the airline industry and is considering executive action to save airline employee jobs if Congress does not agree on a second stimulus bill.

“We’ll be helping the airlines. You have to help the airlines. Airlines are a tough business in good times,” Trump said in an interview with reporters earlier this month.

As the payroll fund expiration date nears, many airlines are working to manage staff levels. United Airlines has announced that it will furlough 16,000 workers on Oct 1. However, the airline and its union, Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), have come to a tentative agreement that will avoid the layoff of nearly 3,000 pilots. Meanwhile, American Airlines plans on releasing 19,000 employees, including 17,500 flight attendants, pilots and mechanics, and 1,500 administration and management staff.

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