Delta Needs 3,000 Flight Attendants to Take Unpaid Leave to Avoid Layoffs

In a memo to employees this week, Delta Air Lines revealed that it expects to have an excess of at least 3,000 flight attendants on its payroll through summer of next year and is asking cabin crews to consider voluntarily taking as much as a year’s unpaid leave so that it might avoid imposing involuntary furloughs.

“Based on the forward-looking network schedule we know today—recognizing there will be continued schedule volatility with COVID-19—we’ve confirmed we will be over-staffed from October into the summer of 2021,” Allison Ausband, Delta’s senior vice president of in-flight service, wrote in a note to employees that was obtained by CNBC. “In keeping with our culture, we are continuing to put our people first by introducing several new options that provide innovative opportunities to preserve jobs.”

Ausband said that the carrier would need “at least” 3,000, or around 15 percent, of its approximately 20,000 flight attendants to take an unpaid leave option of anywhere from four to 12 months’ duration, or take one of the other options Delta has proposed, to avoid cuts.

These choices might include divvying up schedules between flight attendants or opting to work on alternating months, or even transferring to work in the catering department, which the airline said would provide comparable pay.

Reportedly, roughly 17,000 employees, or around 20 percent of Delta’s workforce, have already voluntarily taken the early retirement packages or buyout options offered by the company in a bid to limit pandemic-prompted financial losses. Over 4,000 of those who chose to leave the company by availing themselves of these options, which typically provide severance pay, continued healthcare benefits and other incentives, have been flight attendants.

The CARES Act, through which airlines have received federal government aid to help keep them afloat amid the COVID-19 crisis, includes a Payroll Support Program provision that prohibits carriers from involuntarily furloughing or laying off employees through September 30, 2020.

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