The Air Line Pilots Association at Delta has been in contract negotiations for years, and says talks have stalled. The union represents Delta’s 13,900 pilots, making it the only major unionized employee group at the airline.
Delta said in response that the “information exercise by some of our off-duty pilots will not disrupt our operations for our customers.”
The company said its goal is to “provide Delta pilots with an industry-leading overall contract” and it is “also committed to making sure the contract language supports our ability to run a world-class operation, maintain a strong balance sheet, and invest in our business for our customers and employees alike.”
Atlanta-based Delta and other airlines including Southwest and American have come under increasing pressure from their pilots unions and passengers for flight disruptions amid short-staffing and other challenges across the industry.
Delta canceled more than 200 flights a day over the weekend, and another 200 flights Monday, according to FlightAware.com, making it the U.S. airline with the most cancellations those days. Monday’s disruptions include more than 100 flight cancellations at Hartsfield-Jackson.
The pain felt by passengers is showing up in customer complaints. In April, complaints filed with the federal government were four-times higher than pre-pandemic levels for that month, according to recent data from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The April passenger complaints included 1,549 complaints about about cancellations, delays and other schedule disruptions, and 1,641 complaints about refunds.
The DOT also said Friday its Office of Aviation Consumer Protection “routinely contacts airlines with widespread cancellations or delays to remind them of their obligation to promptly refund passengers” who don’t want to take another flight when theirs is canceled or significantly changed. The agency said it monitors airlines actions and reviews complaints “to ensure that consumers’ rights are not violated.”
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told The Associated Press in an interview that his department could take enforcement actions against airlines that fail to live up to consumer protection standards. But he said he first wants to see if there are major flight disruptions over the Fourth of July period and the rest of the summer.
Delta pilots picketed at Hartsfield-Jackson in March. Other rounds of picketing followed, including in New York at the company’s annual shareholders meeting and Grand Central Station earlier this month, as pilots voiced frustration over their schedules. The pilots say they are tallying record amounts of overtime and criticized Delta management for ongoing flight cancellations due to staffing issues.
The pilots union also this month took the unusual step of writing an open letter to customers saying: “We empathize and share in your frustration over the delays, cancellations, and disrupted travel plans you’ve experienced. We agree — it is unacceptable.”
And, the union sent a letter to Delta’s board of directors saying the union’s leadership had “lost confidence” in Delta’s management of pilots and flight training, adding that “Delta’s operational reliability and outstanding reputation is suffering.”
The pilots union says Delta is operating too many flights for the staff it has available. While the airline has been hiring 200 pilots a month, the training required for new pilots and existing pilots who get shifted to other aircraft means it is taking months to ramp up the workforce to meet the strong demand in a rebound of air travel from declines earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic.