Delta avoids Thanksgiving furloughs after pilots agree to coronavirus concessions

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More than 1,700 pilots at Delta Air Lines have one less thing to worry about this Thanksgiving.

Cockpit crews at the Atlanta-based carrier have voted 76% in favor of pay cuts and other concessions to avoid the involuntary furloughs of 1,713 pilots on Nov. 28 — the Saturday after Thanksgiving — the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) said Wednesday. Delta is barred from forcibly shrinking its staff of 12,900 crew until January 2022 under the accord.

The deal follows similar ones between Alaska Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Spirit Airlines and United Airlines and their respective pilots unions to avoid furloughs earlier this year. However, the pacts did not stop a larger culling of airline workforces with more than 30,000 staff involuntarily furloughed since Oct. 1, when protections under the federal coronavirus aid package, or CARES Act, expired.

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“I don’t think there is any better way to welcome in the Thanksgiving season than with the achievement of protecting all our pilots from furlough,” Delta operations chief John Laughter told staff in an internal communiqué on Wednesday shared with TPG.

Prior to the pilots accord, strong uptake of the airline’s voluntary departure and or unpaid leave packages allowed it to avoid involuntary furloughs of other staff.

Despite the pilot concessions, Delta and other carriers continue to push for a six-month extension of the CARES Act payroll support program for airline workers through March. They argue that keeping workers on the payrolls will allow the industry to bounce back faster — supporting the larger economic recovery —in 2021.

Related: Delta and pilots union reach accord that would avoid coronavirus furloughs

However, no package including that sought-after relief moved forward in Congress — despite bipartisan support — prior to the Nov. 3 election. Now, there are doubts that one will pass during the lame duck session before the new Congress and administration of president-elect Joe Biden are sworn in in January.

In addition to the furloughs that have occurred, airlines are already making cuts that they say would have been avoided with a payroll support extension. American Airlines has ended service to four cities across the U.S., including New Haven, Connecticut (HVN) and Williamsport, Pennsylvania (IPT) that have no other regular commercial air service.

Even Delta has indefinitely suspended flights to more than 16 U.S. destinations.

“We must remember the challenges will continue,” said Laughter in his communiqué. “Our recovery will be uneven — as evident by the recent increase in COVID rates which are affecting our bookings for the holiday season.”

Related: US airlines see cancellations rise amid COVID warnings against Thanksgiving travel

Featured image by Zach Griff/TPG.

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