Delta pilots would get more than 30% in pay raises under new contract deal

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A pilot walks past the windows at the newly renovated Delta terminal D at LaGuardia Airport in New York March 6, 2021.
Timothy A. Clary | AFP | Getty Images

Delta Air Lines and its pilots’ union have reached a preliminary agreement for raises topping 30% over four years, a milestone deal that could sharply drive up aviators’ pay across the industry.

Pilots’ unions and airlines across the U.S. have been in tense negotiations for months if not years, as crews seek more compensation and better schedules.

Delta pilots voted in October to authorize a strike if a deal wasn’t reached, while pilots at several airlines have picketed this year demanding contract improvements. Delta and the union were edging toward a deal in mid-November, CNBC reported.

Unions have complained about grueling schedules as travel snapped back from a pandemic slump. Delta and other U.S. carriers are profitable again, but a shortage of trained pilots has hampered carriers’ recovery and contributed to higher airfare. It also gives pilots more power in contract negotiations. Labor and fuel are airlines’ top two expenses.

The “agreement-in-principle” Delta reached with the Air Line Pilots Association is equal to $7.2 billion in cumulative value over four years, the union told members in an email late Friday. About a quarter of that is tied to quality-of-life improvements.

The agreement includes an 18% increase on the day the contract is signed, then a 5% increase one year later and two 4% raises in each of the following years. It also includes a one-time payment of 4% of 2020 and 2021 pay each, plus 14% of 2022 pay.

“We are pleased to have reached an agreement in principle for a new pilot contract, one that recognizes the contributions of our pilots to Delta’s success,” a Delta spokesman said in an emailed statement.

Attempts at deals at American Airlines and United Airlines have so far failed but Delta’s agreement could push talks along.

“We will take other carriers’ ratified agreements, including United’s, into account and update our pay proposals quickly when details are known,” American’s CEO Robert Isom said in a video message to pilots in June.

The Delta agreement said pay rates will exceed United’s and American’s pay by at least 1% over the course of the agreement, which still needs union and pilot approval.

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