More than 2,000 Delta pilots sign up for early retirement

Delta Air Lines has parked planes amid flight cuts during the coronavirus pandemic.

Delta Air Lines has parked planes amid flight cuts during the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 2,000 pilots at Delta Air Lines have applied to take early retirement offers, in addition to thousands of other employees taking buyouts and early retirements as the company shrinks its workforce.

Atlanta-based Delta announced last week that more than 17,000 employees had opted for buyouts or early retirement packages, part of an effort to cut costs due to the “staggering impact” of the coronavirus pandemic that has sharply curtailed air travel.

In addition, more than 2,230 pilots have signed up for the voluntary early retirement program, according to the Air Line Pilots Association union at Delta.

“This is meaningful progress as we look to mitigate furloughs and our teams are hard at work to determine next steps and evaluate how the pilot early retirement may affect Delta’s overall pilot staffing outlook,” the airline said in a written statement.

Delta has about 90,000 employees, including roughly 14,000 pilots.

Pilots who qualify for early retirement and take the package will get 58 hours of pay per month for 36 months or until age 65, whichever comes earlier. They also qualify for certain medical and travel benefits. Pilots who sign up will retire starting Sept. 1.

Last month, Delta warned pilots of potential furloughs.

While the window was open to sign up for the offer, Delta’s senior vice president of flight operations, John Laughter, told pilots in a memo that “we face a long, choppy recovery and constantly changing road ahead.”

In the memo last Friday, Laughter pushed a management proposal to reduce pilots’ guaranteed pay by 15% for one year, in return for a guarantee of no pilot furloughs for a year.

“Our approach is to spread the work of a smaller airline among all our pilots to preserve all jobs,” Laughter wrote. “But we cannot do it only with voluntary options” such as early retirements and paid leaves.

In response, the pilots union said it is in active negotiations with the company and that “we need to finish addressing implementing all voluntary partially paid leave variations before discussing any involuntary options with Delta.”

Earlier this year the pilots union rejected management’s push for a proposed 20% cut in guaranteed pilot pay, while proposing other options. The airline has cut pay for many of its other employees, who are not unionized, by 25%.

The pilots union in March struck a deal to offer pilots time off at reduced pay — but subsequently Delta management said it no longer wanted to offer paid leave to pilots because tens of thousands of its other employees had signed up for unpaid leave.