Delta and pilot union reach preliminary deal to avoid furloughs until 2022

Key Points
  • Delta had planned to furlough more than 1,900 pilots to cut costs.
  • The company doesn't expect to furlough other employees after thousands took buyouts and unpaid leave.
  • United Airlines reached an agreement to avoid furloughs through June 2021.
A pilot talks on a mobile device near a Delta Air Lines gate at the Salt Lake City International Airport.
George Frey | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Delta Air Lines and the union that represents its pilots have reached a preliminary cost-cutting agreement that would avoid furloughs until Jan. 1, 2022, the union said Thursday.

The agreement still needs approval from Delta's nearly 13,000 pilots. The agreement would reduce monthly minimum guaranteed hours by 5% and give partial pay of 30 hours a month to the pilots who received furlough notices and who won't have to fly, the union said. Delta in August warned it could furlough 1,941 pilots in the fall. Airline employees who are furloughed generally retain rights to be recalled by the company, but given the industry's downturn in the pandemic, it's not clear when that could be.

The agreement comes as U.S. airlines facing mounting financial losses, which topped $11 billion in the third quarter.

American Airlines and United Airlines earlier this month started furloughing more than 30,000 employees. Carriers were prohibited from cutting jobs until Oct. 1 under the terms of $25 billion in federal aid for the sector. Airlines are seeking additional aid but the White House and Congress have been unable to reach an agreement on an additional coronavirus stimulus package.

The Atlanta-based carrier has said its other frontline workers like flight attendants escaped furloughs thanks to some 18,000 employees, roughly a fifth of its pre-pandemic staff, who opted to take buyouts, while thousands of others took unpaid leave. Delta had postponed planned pilot furloughs until Nov. 1 as negotiations continued with pilots.

"While this agreement is still subject to approval by the [union's executive council], we are confident this can help Delta to be better positioned through the long and choppy COVID-19 pandemic recovery," said John Laughter, Delta's chief of operations in a note to employees.

Delta said it would delay the furlough effective date until Nov. 28. to allow pilots to vote on the plan.

Southwest Airlines has said it wouldn't pursue furloughs this year but it has asked its workers to take 10% pay cuts to avoid cuts through 2021.

Delta CEO expects to get to cash flow break-even, cash flow positive in the spring
Delta CEO expects to get to cash flow break-even, cash flow positive in the spring