A Delta A350 on the ramp at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Photo: Capt. Kevin Collins (Delta)

Delta Air Lines pilots are more than 15,000 strong and growing. In January 2023, a new team of Master Executive Council (MEC) officers began their two-year terms at a pivotal time in the pilot group’s history. Capt. Darren Hartmann, a Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County-based A320 pilot and Council 20 chair, was elected MEC chair. He replaces Capt. Jason Ambrosi who was elected ALPA’s president at the 49th biennial Board of Directors meeting.

As travel demand soared in 2022, the MEC returned its focus to negotiating an industry-leading contract after a nearly two-year pause. In this round of contract talks, bargaining priorities were comprehensive. The pilot group sought significant improvements in job protections, compensation, quality of life, and retirement and benefits. When negotiations failed to produce sufficient value by the fall, the pilots took a significant step forward in the Section 6 process by balloting the membership to authorize a strike, if needed, to obtain the contract they’d earned. In October, the pilots voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, with 96 percent of eligible pilots participating and 99 percent voting in favor of a strike.

On the heels of the strike ballot and a series of successful informational picketing events systemwide, the MEC Negotiating Committee reached an agreement in principle with management for a new contract in December 2022. After the “Contract 2019” language was finalized, the negotiators presented the MEC with a tentative agreement (TA) in early January. In addition, the pilots and management held stand-alone talks to discuss enhanced job security. The impact of COVID, particularly on international flying, provided a unique opportunity to rewrite the language contained in Section 1–Scope of the pilots’ contract. These negotiations, conducted outside of the mediated Railway Labor Act bargaining process, resulted in an eventual TA for a new global scope agreement.

On January 18, the MEC voted to recommend that Contract 2019 be submitted to the membership for ratification; the Global Scope Letter of Agreement TA received unanimous support. “These agreements are the direct result of Delta pilots’ unity and engagement,” said Hartmann. “It’s now time for the membership to decide whether they’ll become part of our new pilot working agreement. We’re committed to ensuring pilots have access to all the information needed to make an informed decision through multiple communication channels, including negotiator road shows at each base.”

The ratification ballot will be open for 30 days during which time pilots can ask questions, listen to podcasts, and review material on the Contract 2019 microsite. The ballot closes on March 1. Should the comprehensive TA be ratified, the new contract would provide a 45 percent increase in the value of the contract negotiated in 2016. The Global Scope TA would include strong, enforceable contractual protections to ensure Delta pilots have an equitable share of international widebody flying, including one-for-one growth with international partners. “Both TAs contain significant changes to our existing contract,” Hartmann remarked. “If they’re ratified, we’ll dedicate substantial resources to ensure that the new provisions are properly implemented and enforced.”

Should the Contract 2019 TA not pass membership ratification, the National Mediation Board would meet with ALPA and Delta for a status update and to discuss next steps. And should the Global Scope TA not pass, restrictions on foreign partner flying would revert to current Section 1 language.

Other priorities for the year include preparing for the summer flying season. In 2022, Delta pilots flew more overtime than in 2018 and 2019 combined to help the airline operate its overly ambitious schedule as airline flight disruptions, cancellations, and flight crew staffing concerns made national headlines. The pilots took their message to the traveling public in a series of highly successful and widely covered informational picketing events as well as placing a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal titled “An Open Letter to Delta Customers.” In the ad, pilots called upon management to use discipline and not schedule more flights than it could staff. Delta eventually reduced its operations; however, the coming months will be busy as the airline increases capacity by 15 percent through the summer to accommodate demand.

“Delta pilots have shown their leadership and professionalism during an unprecedented time in the airline industry,” said Hartmann. “We’re long-term stakeholders in our company, and I’m confident that our collective sacrifices won’t just yield an industry-leading contract but an agreement that represents a lasting advancement for our profession.”