Delta, pilot union reach agreement to offer partial pay after virus forces flight cuts

Key Points
  • Delta and its pilot union reached an agreement to offer reduced pay as coronavirus roils air travel.
  • Delta and other airlines are racing to cut costs as bookings crater.
  • The Trump administration has banned most Europeans from entering the U.S. for 30 days.
A Delta Air Lines Boeing 777
James D. Morgan | Getty Images

Delta Air Lines and the union that represents its more than 14,000 have agreed to let the carrier offer partially paid time off for aviators through June, and possibly longer, as coronavirus devastates travel demand.

Delta and other carriers are scrambling to cut costs, instituting hiring freezes, asking employees to take unpaid leave and other measures to save cash.

The Atlanta-based carrier on Friday announced it would cut its flying by 40% in the next few months, the biggest cuts in the airline's more than 90-year history.

Some executives have told CNBC that they expect further cuts from other airlines. 

President Donald Trump on Saturday extended  his ban announced earlier this week on visitors who have been in 26 European countries to include the U.K. and Ireland as well. Trump said his administration is considering domestic travel restrictions as well in some areas but didn't provide detail. He also encouraged the American public to avoid unnecessary travel

"The speed of the demand fall-off is unlike anything we've seen – and we've seen a lot in our business," Delta's CEO Ed Bastian wrote to employees on Friday. "We are moving quickly to preserve cash and protect our company. And with revenues dropping, we must be focused on taking costs out of our business."

Delta and the airline's more than 14,500 pilots, which are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, agreed to allow the company to offer pilots time off with reduced pay. United Airlines earlier this month took a similar step.

Delta pilots who feel feverish, have a cough or difficulty breathing need to call in sick, according to a note the union sent to pilots. Pilots who are diagnosed with the disease will have pay protections for lost flying time.

"Delta and our pilots find ourselves navigating a public health and economic crisis in which the landscape changes daily," the union said. "Delta pilots are dedicated to the success of our airline and will continue to work with management as we navigate through these extraordinary times."

JetBlue Airways, which is also asking employees to take unpaid leave and has instituted a hiring freeze, told employees on Saturday that they can get up to 14 days paid sick leave if employees test positive for COVID-19 or are forced to quarantine.

"In almost a century of commercial aviation, the coronavirus pandemic has already secured its place as the worldwide industry's single greatest challenge," JetBlue's president, Joanna Geraghty said in a note to employees on Saturday. "The new plan announced here will add new costs. To the extent these efforts may slow or blunt the spread of this disease among Crewmembers and the general public, they will be worth every penny."