Delta will delay decision to furlough pilots until November, union says

Key Points
  • Delta had earlier planned to furlough more than 1,900 pilots.
  • The delay will allow for lobbying of extra federal aid and negotiating furlough mitigation plans with Delta, the union said.
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

Delta Air Lines has agreed to delay the decision to furlough close to 2,000 pilots until Nov. 1, giving more time to negotiate cost-cutting measures with the pilots' union and more clarity on whether carriers will get additional federal coronavirus aid.

Delta had planned to furlough more than 1,900 of its roughly 13,000 pilots as early as Oct. 1, when the terms of $25 billion in federal payroll support that prohibits airline industry job cuts expires. Delta has largely avoided furloughs of its staff after thousands took buyouts and leaves of absence and the company reduced many workers' schedules.

"This move will provide time as we continue to lobby for a clean extension of the CARES Act and the Payroll Support Program and resume our negotiations with Delta," the union, the Air Line Pilots Association, said in a statement Tuesday.

Delta shared a proposal that could avoid furloughs with the union last week.

"While we're also watching the progress of the possible CARES Act extension, it is important that we reach an agreement now that spreads the work of approximately 12,000 active pilots across a network schedule that in Summer 2021 only requires about 9,500 pilots to fly it," said Delta's senior vice president of flight operations, John Laughter wrote Tuesday in a memo to pilots, which was viewed by CNBC. "The recovery won't be over in six months, so sharing the available work is the only way to avoid furloughs altogether."

Delta and the pilots union reached a tentative agreement last week to reduce the furloughs by 220 pilots for a total of 1,721 and some of the pilots have opted for early retirement packages.

Airlines have urged lawmakers and the White House to provide additional aid. Congress and the Trump administration are yet to reach an agreement on a broader coronavirus relief package that could include more money for carriers.

On Monday, two key Republican senators introduced a bill that would give passenger airlines, cargo airlines and contractors more than $25 billion in additional aid to secure jobs through the end of March.

American Airlines and United Airlines have said they could furlough or lay off 35,000 workers combined, though United's pilots are voting on a deal this week that could avoid close to 3,000 planned pilot job cuts.

On Tuesday afternoon, CEOs from American, United, JetBlue Airways and union leaders were on Capitol Hill in a last-minute plea for more federal support with tens of thousands of job cuts set to start a week from Thursday.