Pilots at Delta Air Lines have approved a new contract that would increase wages by 34 percent by 2026 and improve scheduling, retirement and other benefits, raising the standard of contract negotiations at other major U.S. airlines.
The vote was held in February, and the results were announced Wednesday, with 78 percent of pilots approving the deal, according to the Delta Master Executive Council, the union that represents them. The union said more than 7 billion was raised in four years.
The contract’s substantial increases are a reflection of a shortage of pilots in the U.S. and a strong recovery in demand for air travel. Airlines have hired thousands of pilots since bookings began in 2021 after the pandemic spread in early 2020. Many airlines offered early retirement and buyout packages to pilots and other employees during the peak of the pandemic. Demand is expected to recover slowly. They were short staffed when the business grew so quickly.
“This industry-leading contract is a direct result of the unity and determination of Delta pilots,” said union president Capt. Darren Hartman. “Despite the two-year delay in negotiations due to Covid, we never lost sight of our goal of securing significant improvements to our pilot employment contract.”
The airline’s 15,000 pilots have overwhelmingly approved a separate contract aimed at protecting the number of high-paying jobs for pilots operating international flights. The deal, approved by 90 percent of voters, requires Delta to add new international flights whenever it sells more flights operated by foreign airlines it partners with.
“From the beginning of the negotiation process, we set out to deliver the best pilot contract in the industry to the best pilots in the industry, positioning us as the best place for American aviation, and this contract is a reflection of that unwavering commitment,” Delta Chief Operating Officer John Laughter said in a statement.
The airline said it plans to raise wages for many workers starting in April. Unlike its peers, Delta’s workforce, including flight attendants and baggage handlers, is largely non-unionized.
The new contract is widely expected to affect pilot negotiations at American Airlines, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines. All those companies are grappling with tough talks and demands from union leaders and their members for higher wages and other changes.
In the fall, United pilots rejected the proposed contract. And leaders of the American union, the Allied Airmen’s Union, refused to send a tentative agreement to a membership vote.
American said Wednesday that the new Delta deal could put more pressure on other airlines to offer better terms to pilots.
“Delta’s pilot contract profoundly changes the economics for the entire industry,” American said in a statement. “Our commitment to paying our team members well and competitively remains unchanged.”
The union at Southwest plans to ask its members to vote in May to authorize a strike if the group does not reach an agreement with the company; Contract negotiations have been going on for three years. According to federal law, pilots can only go on strike after meeting several conditions.
“This is not a decision we have taken lightly, but given the trajectory of our current leadership team, we have no confidence in the stability and future of our airline,” said Capt. Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, in a statement last month.
Captain Murray and other union leaders criticized Southwest management late last year after the company’s actions disrupted the travel plans of about two million people. The airline said it was overwhelmed by bad weather and other challenges, but the Department of Transportation is investigating whether Southwest knowingly sold more planes than it could handle.
In addition to the raises, the new Delta contract includes improvements in benefits such as vacation time, travel per diems, scheduling and retirement contributions.
96 percent of Delta’s eligible pilots voted. The deal came into force on Thursday and will run until 2026.