Business

Delta to bring 400 pilots back to work by summer

Southwest to offer another round of voluntary leave

Delta Air Lines Senior Vice President John Laughter warns the industry's recovery will be #x201c;long and choppy.#x201d;
Delta Air Lines Senior Vice President John Laughter warns the industry’s recovery will be “long and choppy.” Above, a ticketing agent for Delta Air Lines hands a boarding pass to a passenger at Denver International Airport this past July. (Associated Press)

Delta Air Lines will bring back 400 pilots to active status by summer in anticipation of a recovery in travel as the COVID-19 vaccine is distributed.

After drastic cuts in flights, Atlanta-based Delta last year put about 1,700 pilots on inactive status on reduced pay.

After the passage of another federal stimulus bill with funding for airlines to keep workers on their payrolls, Delta restored full pay to those pilots from December through March but didn’t bring them back to work.

Delta flies to Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids.

In a memo to pilots reviewed by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Delta Senior Vice President John Laughter warned that the recovery will be “long and choppy” and that the first quarter will be similar to the fourth quarter, when Delta was burning through $10 million to $15 million in cash a day due to depressed demand for travel.

“However, we’re cautiously optimistic that demand will increase as vaccinations roll out across the world, and we look forward to restoring all affected pilots back to full flying status as the recovery continues,” Laughter wrote.

It’s unclear when all of the 1,700 inactive pilots will be brought back to work, beyond the 400 who are returning to active status by this summer.

The latest round of federal stimulus funding includes nearly $2.9 billion in grants and loans to Delta.

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Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, however, will offer another round of voluntary leave to employees as it tries to overcome continuing financial difficulties from the pandemic, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.

Southwest will give employees the option of taking unpaid, voluntary leave starting March 1, with packages varying between one and six months depending on their work group.

The airline lost roughly $10 million a day in the last three months of 2020, and U.S. passenger airline traffic still is down 60 percent against comparable days a year ago before the COVID-19 pandemic officially spread outside of Asia.

Less than two weeks ago, Southwest received the first part of its $1.2 billion government grant to pay for worker salaries.

That included a loan for about $488 billion.

Some 17,000 Southwest Airlines workers took leaves and voluntary buyouts last year, equaling more than a quarter of all employees.

Southwest had about 56,000 employees as of November, according to federal data, about 3,500 fewer than a year earlier.

Airlines overall have cut the number of flights by 44 percent compared to a year ago, according to Airlines for America.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Dallas Morning News contributed to this report.

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