Delta says it won't furlough most workers thanks to buyouts and shorter schedules

Key Points
  • Shorter work schedules and other voluntary measures helped Delta avoid most furloughs.
  • More than 40,000 of the airline's employees signed up for voluntary leaves of varying lengths.
  • Delta still plans to furlough more than 1,900 pilots but is still negotiating cost-cutting measures with their union.
Delta Air Lines passenger planes are seen parked due to flight reductions made to slow the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.
Elijah Nouvelage | Reuters

Most of Delta Air Lines' roughly 75,000 workers won't face job cuts, thanks to voluntary leaves of absence, buyouts and shorter schedules, the airline said Tuesday.

Carriers have pleaded with employees in recent months to take leave or buyouts in order to lower their labor bills as the coronavirus pandemic's toll on travel demand deprived them of revenue during what is usually the busiest time of the year.

About a fifth of Delta's staff, which numbered more than 90,000 at the start of the year, took buyouts or early retirement packages, CEO Ed Bastian said in a staff memo. More than 40,000 have opted for temporary leaves of absence since the pandemic began and work schedules for most employees have been cut by 25%. The reduced hours will continue until the end of the year.

"While it is difficult to see so many of our colleagues leave, every one of those departures helped save Delta jobs," he said.

Flight attendants, mechanics, reservation and customer service agents won't face furloughs, Bastian said. 

The airline has warned more than 1,900 pilots, however, could face furloughs as early as Oct. 1. The company and the union have sparred over cost-cutting measures and negotiations are continuing.

"Pilots are career-long stakeholders in Delta Air Lines, and as such, we are motivated to help the Company while still upholding our core value of protecting pilot jobs," the union said in a memo to members on Tuesday, after Bastian's note to staff was released. "We are in ongoing talks with management to mitigate pilot furloughs with the goal of finding win/win solutions."

Southwest Airlines has also said it will be able to avoid involuntary job cuts this year thanks to early retirement and buyout packages, while American Airlines and United Airlines last month said they could furlough up to about 35,000 workers combined starting this fall. United and the pilots' union, however, have reached a preliminary agreement that could avoid furloughs of close to 3,000 pilots.

The terms of $25 billion in aid airlines received from the federal government prohibit job cuts through Sept. 30. Airline labor unions and executives are pushing for another round of aid that would protect industry jobs through the end of next March but Congress has so far failed to reach a deal on another coronavirus stimulus bill that could include the additional relief.

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