An A350 parked on the ramp at Delta’s hub in Atlanta, Ga. (Photo: F/O Lisa Archibald [Delta])

Delta Air Lines pilots are optimistic about the airline industry’s recovery and achieving significant contractual improvements in 2022. The company invoked the jurisdiction of the National Mediation Board (NMB) to officiate negotiations in late 2019, and the NMB paused negotiations due to the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020. The pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) quickly switched gears to focus on the task at hand: keeping pilots safe as they operated nearly empty aircraft or helping Delta park the fleet in Victorville, Calif., and other locations around the country. The MEC also took action in 2020 to negotiate a number of furlough-mitigation measures that, combined with the protections achieved by airline labor in the CARES Act and its extensions, successfully protected the pilots against scheduled layoffs.

With the rollout of COVID vaccines in 2021, the MEC secured significant protections and incentives for the pilot group. These included pay incentives for those pilots who chose to receive a vaccination and the ability to take paid time off to do so if a pilot’s schedule conflicted with the FAA-mandated no-fly/no-duty interval. While acknowledging the important role vaccines play in recovering from the pandemic, MEC leaders held firm to the position that vaccines shouldn’t be mandatory and that each pilot has a right to choose based on personal or medical reasons.

The MEC also dedicated resources to achieving contractual scope improvements and protections as Delta reevaluates its international joint venture partners during the pandemic’s recovery. The pilot group began focused talks on global scope issues in the summer of 2021 with the goal of ensuring that Delta pilots share equally with the company’s joint venture partners as international markets reopen and flying returns. These discussions occurred outside of mediation but were authorized by the NMB.

“Delta pilots played an important role in keeping airplanes moving during the pandemic’s darkest days with an unrelenting focus on the safety of our fellow pilots, employees, and passengers,” said Capt. Jason Ambrosi, the pilot group’s MEC chair. “As travel demand returned, we stepped up to the plate and flew record amounts of overtime so that the company could operate its schedule and maximize revenue. Our airline is now well positioned to reemerge as the industry leader, and we’re ready to pick up where we left off at the bargaining table.”

To prepare for the resumption of Section 6 negotiations, MEC leaders polled and surveyed the pilot group throughout the summer and fall of 2021. With nearly 2,000 pilots who retired as part of an early-out program negotiated in 2020 and a new influx of pilots—Delta is on track to hire 1,000 pilots to be ready for the summer of 2022—the MEC prioritized receiving member feedback. “It’s critical that we understand how, if at all, COVID may have impacted the pilot group’s negotiating priorities,” Ambrosi remarked. “We’re a bottom-up organization, and membership input is pivotal to our decision-making.”

This year will help write the next chapter in the Delta pilots’ history. “Our company’s brand is stronger than ever, corporate travelers are taking to the skies again, and domestic travel has returned to prepandemic levels,” said Ambrosi. “Delta pilots are in a unique position to improve job security, quality of life, and other contractual enhancements for all 12,700 pilots on the seniority list.”