Delta hiring as air travel bounces back from COVID-19

09/04/2020 -Atlanta, Georgia - Delta Air Lines employees work the ticket counter in the domestic terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Friday, September 4, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
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09/04/2020 -Atlanta, Georgia - Delta Air Lines employees work the ticket counter in the domestic terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Friday, September 4, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Delta Air Lines is hiring thousands of workers as it staffs up to handle the increase in passengers that’s come amid the drop in coronavirus infections.

The Atlanta-based carrier said Tuesday that it’s hiring new workers, bringing back former employees on a short-term basis and using contract staffing to bolster its workforce as millions of travelers take to the skies again.

Last year, the company slashed its workforce through buyouts and early retirements as air travel dropped 60%. Delta went from more than 90,000 employees before the pandemic to 75,000 by the end of the year.

In addition, tens of thousands of the airline’s employees took unpaid leaves last year. The number of active employees had dropped to about 61,500 by last September, according to federal airline employment data.

Business and international travel remain below pre-pandemic levels, but domestic leisure travel has fully recovered, according to Delta CEO Ed Bastian.

Meanwhile, Delta is still catching up. A shortage of reservations agents has led to hours-long waits for people calling Delta’s customer service line. The airline acknowledged that “call wait times have caused customer frustration.”

In airport Sky Clubs, cutbacks drove the company to call on its Atlanta headquarters employees to volunteer to help clean and staff the lounges. And well before that, Delta ran short on pilots during some holiday periods.

The airline said it is hiring more than 1,000 reservations agents, more than 3,000 workers in airport customer service and cargo, more than 1,600 flight attendants and as many as 1,000 mechanics, technicians and other Technical Operations workers.

“As we shift gears toward recovery, we know we need reinforcements to help us serve our customers this summer,” said Joanne Smith, Delta’s chief people officer, in a written statement.

Delta has said new hires will be required to be vaccinated for COVID-19 unless they qualify for an accommodation. Workers can request accommodation if they have medical conditions that are a contraindication to the vaccine or if they have sincerely held religious beliefs that prohibit taking the vaccine.

ExploreDelta CEO: Vaccination to be required for new employees

The airline is bringing about 200 former reservations agents on by the end of July as short-term contractors, while it hires 1,300 new agents it plans to have trained by fall.

Delta is also contracting with a travel agency to help with customer service messaging, and is hoping technology will help tackle some customer service needs. The airline has urged customers to use its website and app instead of calling if they don’t need urgent assistance.

About 1,300 flight attendants are returning to the air in October after taking leaves of absence, and the airline is bringing on more than 1,600 flight attendants who were in training or had conditional job offers before the pandemic disrupted plans. On Monday, Delta said it will hire 1,000 pilots by next summer.

The company is also hiring more than 3,000 airport customer service and cargo workers. It’s looking for another 1,200 people to help with enhanced cleaning at its hubs in Atlanta, Detroit and Salt Lake City and to help with wheelchair staffing and other services.

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