At Least 48 Delta Pilots Have COVID-19; Company Accused Of Cover-Up

Filed Under: Delta

As reported by HuffPost, there’s quite a bit of controversy at the moment surrounding how Delta Air Lines is handling COVID-19 in terms of keeping employees in the loop.

At least 48 Delta pilots have COVID-19

First of all, the Delta division of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) reports that at least 48 Delta pilots have tested positive for COVID-19. Delta has about ~15,000 pilots, so that’s a significant number, but also not really surprising.

I would imagine that the reality is that many more pilots have it but just haven’t been tested, given the risks associated with being an airline employee right now.

As ALPA’s Executive Chairman says, “we think the number is quite significant, but we just don’t have the data, the company’s hiding it.”

Delta accused of hiding COVID-19 cases from employees

Footage has been leaked of the preparations that were being made for a virtual “town hall” for Delta pilots, where you can see union executives and Delta management discussing how best to handle this situation.

The reason this is so controversial is because:

  • A Delta executive directed pilots who tested positive for COVID-19 to withhold the diagnosis from colleagues, including flight attendants
  • A union representative said that one of Delta’s chief pilots told other pilots that “it’s not your job to go telling people that you were infected”

This was brought to the attention of a Delta spokesperson, who said the following:

“We are aware of the video and the discussion contained within it and are monitoring – our initial read is this is not consistent with our [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]-informed notification process.”

Then yesterday the company sent pilots updated guidelines for informing employees when a co-worker tests positive for the virus:

  • Leaders will identify and notify employees who have come into prolonged contact with anyone who had symptoms of COVID-19
  • They will inform employees up to 48 hours prior to when the symptoms began, while previously they would have only informed employees day-of
  • “Prolonged contact” is defined as being within six feet for 10 continuous minutes

the video has since been deleted

Personally I’m not sure just how scandalous this really is — I’ll let you guys decide. I’m not sure if they were telling employees it wasn’t their “job” to tell colleagues because the communication should happen on a higher-level, or if it’s because they actually wanted to cover it up.

Will this eventually lead to more unionization at Delta?

I don’t think this will be immediate, but I’ll put my prediction out there right now — I think this entire situation will finally lead to Delta flight attendants voting to be unionized. Not this specific (alleged) cover-up, but rather the overall impacts of COVID-19.

There’s no doubt that Delta has used corporate culture as a competitive advantage, and Delta frontline employees are on balance nicer and more customer-focused than at American and United.

While Delta pilots are unionized, flight attendants aren’t. There have been all kinds of efforts to unionize Delta flight attendants, and they’ve failed. However, the votes that have taken place have been close. For example, in 2010, 9,544 flight attendants voted against unionizing, while 9,216 flight attendants voted in favor of unionizing.

I think the organizations trying to unionize Delta flight attendants will at some point make a few points:

  • This cover-up, and the lack of “protection” flight attendants have
  • The fact that flight attendants at Delta aren’t being offered the same opportunities as flight attendants at other airlines right now when it comes to paid leave; Delta is only offering flight attendants unpaid leave, while airlines like American are offering flight attendants paid leave options
  • Delta has long used profit sharing as a competitive advantage, though I imagine there won’t be much of that in the next couple of years

To be clear, I’m not suggesting I’m for or against Delta flight attendants being unionized. Rather I believe that given that Delta’s flight attendants have been 50/50ish on unionizing in the past, I think this could push them over the edge when the next unionization efforts come around.

Bottom line

It’s hard to know for sure how much of a cover-up there really is here. I can appreciate the concept of management having a system by which employees are communicated with regarding contact with those who have tested positive for COVID-19. That seems more reliable than putting the burden on individual employees.

The point of this post is twofold — it’s pretty significant that a minimum of 48 (and probably way more) Delta pilots have tested positive for COVID-19. Furthermore — I’m just putting my bet out there now — I think Delta flight attendants may be unionized not too long after things start to return to normal(ish).

  1. These crewmembers getting COVID-19 was a matter of when, not if. Being in close proximity to people all the time, walking through airports with potential carriers without PPE? Its a no brainer. Hopefully none of these men and women fall critically ill or worse.

    Airlines that are still operating in the US should follow CDC guidelines and issue non-medical face masks to all crew.

  2. @Ben “Personally I’m not sure just how scandalous this really is… I’m not sure if they were telling employees it wasn’t their “job” to tell colleagues because the communication should happen on a higher-level.”

    C’mon Ben. Are you listening to the ACTUAL words?
    “I’ve deleted a few incendiary questions already. We don’t need to see that.”
    “The company is hiding it.”
    “They told them not to tell the flight attendants.”

    Why does this need to come from someone higher up? We’re dealing with life and death RIGHT NOW! We can’t wait for a “town hall” in a few days so it doesn’t alarm everyone. C’mon bro. Say what it is.

  3. This information comes to light and Warren Buffet sells 13 million shares of Delta yesterday.

  4. Would you please, PLEASE stop with the scaremongering? 49 out of 15,000 is not “a significant number” (it’s less than 1/3 of 1%), and to “Imagine“ that the number is “many more” is irresponsible speculation.

  5. Agree with John.

    The reality is any person with even a remote healthcare education knows that a mask is better than nothing. Even a non N95 one. The fact the CDC, Surgeon General etc tried to downplay us wearing them was done purely from a non scientific POV. They wanted to prevent people from hoarding. Them rationalizing wearing one of infected cat non infected was hogwash. People may not know they’re infected. Everyone should be wearing a face mask if it public.

    But of course now they’re coming out and saying you can wear one. In a month it will be required.

  6. 48 out of 15,000 is not “significant.” About that many could expect to be struck by lightening sometime.

  7. @ Jennifer Ward — Even 48 out of 15,000 is significantly higher than the average among the population. And the “many more” assumption isn’t speculation on my part, it’s from ALPA’s Executive Chairman — “we think the number is quite significant, but we just don’t have the data, the company’s hiding it.”

  8. This honestly sounds like the same tactic other businesses (and countries) use: force people to rely on hierarchical strategies to disseminate information. They then use that hierarchy under the guise of suppressing fear or panic, but in reality the effect is to suppress company-wide (or country-wide) problems – that people who are ill may not be receiving the support that they need. (Delta might be supporting these pilots, they might not – but they certainly aren’t supporting their FAs if they’re not allowing clear and timely communication regarding an infectious agent amongst their staff).

    Unfortunately, that doesn’t allow the people who could be exposed to make informed decisions for themselves (such as wearing masks, taking additional disinfectant measures, getting tested themselves, implementing distancing measures at home in the case of potential spread with loved ones, etc).

    And -that- is the scandal. And it’s rolling through numerous companies and countries right now. Delta isn’t unique in this situation.

  9. @Jennifer and @JetAway, I agree with Lucky on this one, but not because of the statistics but rather lack of mitigation methods. In most cases, when a severe storm occurs people can mitigate harm by going to safety after a NWS warning goes out. In this situation, Delta is keeping workers as critical but not providing PPE, which would help further mitigate this risk. Additionally, since immediate quarantine for those exposed and social distancing are the current guidelines, if Delta cannot allow its pilots to adequately do that, it is putting them at greater risk than the thunderstorm you claim might be more dangerous.

  10. I doubt the company is legally allowed to tell others when someone is infected. Isn’t that a big violation of privacy?

  11. The public sector (i.e. school districts) are handling this much the same way….non-disclosure.

    There are also HIPPA regulations that need to be adhere to in order to protect patient confidentiality.

  12. If there are no profits then there is no profit sharing. A union can’t make a payout appear if there’s nothing to pay out.

  13. A Few Things:

    1) Pilots getting coronavirus is not unexpected. Anyone operating in the public sphere in proximity to people are exposed to it. That goes for all other essential workers that are still working jobs where close contact with people is part of the routine. I have seen estimates that 40-70% of the population may eventually get it.
    2) At this point, it is hard to expect a company, especially a large one like Delta, to engage in a proactive coverup. I could see if individual employees mask some symptoms especially if they are mild but given the current environment it is impractical to imagine any kind of strategy involving that.
    3) Pay disparity is a valid question and one that we have already been talking about on here and in other public forums. No question the ALPA will do what they can for the pilots while the rest of the system crew will likely feel like they received something considered subpar. There are a lot of moving parts. I suspect that given the bailouts the situation will remain a bit fluid until we see if and what stipulations are put on by the government for the money.
    4) As far as Delta unionization, they may, but in the end how much will it matter. We know the short-term situation is basically dead. We may be at 25% capacity through July 4th if that and yields even less. Intermediate (through the end of the year) probably only 50% or so depending on how much business picks up. Long term I suspect the industry may be in for some changes. It is hard to imagine going through something like this without structural changes. We saw that with 9.11 and the fuel crises.

    I think once the bailout begins to materialize in a concrete way there will be oversight from the US House and much of this information will come out.

  14. @Jason – But to @Flyers point, many of those are shut down. In Ohio, for example, schools are closed until May 1st. It’s online for everyone. Even the grocery stores here are more locked down and most employees are wearing gloves and face masks.

    For an airplane, one infected pilot, steward or passenger could infect hundreds of people.

    HIPPA regulations have nothing to do with a sector this large disclosing its infected population. They’re not exactly disclosing pilot x has covid nor should they unless others have been around pilot x and absolutely it should be disclosed to all
    Parties they were around a Covid + person. You can do that without disclosing who the individual is.

  15. 48/15000 pilots or 48/87000 employees What about cabin crew ?

    What about other staff who have contracted it ?
    How about other airlines ? Bus companies ? Healthcare professionals?

    @jetiquette they legally have to notify other staff who gave been in contact so they may self isolate

  16. @Jennifer Ward, if you or your loved ones get tested positive for COVID-19, I can guarantee that you will regret for what you said. You will not take the virus seriously until you, your fam & friends have it.

    I hope the crew members who have COVID-19 are safe and healthy.

  17. I don’t want to dispute or argue over whether or not Delta has obfuscated the true impact here but I also want to point out that HIPPA plays a strong role here in what companies can share about employee’s personal health information. My Fortune 500 company has been very forthcoming (ie a personin “building X on floor Y was diagnosed “ while also being excessively careful to not disclose any personally identifying information.

  18. Many companies are engaging in this kind of cover up and preventing co workers from knowing that they are at risk and should be tested. I hope all companies who cover up thos information from their employees get wrecked by media coverage when someone gets around to covering this.

    Publix, a Florida grocery store, for example is doing this as well and they are a food provider and essential service.

    Thank you for making sure this story is able to get out as well. It is important for people to be able to protect themselves.

  19. You’re referencing a HuffPost article? The article is written to incite rage and couldn’t be any more pro-union and less about the facts.

  20. The real scandal is how airlines continued to fly, knowing how China showed the way and had Wuhan closed and most of air travel down : it was on all the news.

    How many lives do these business and government shitheads want before thinking properly ?
    Countries are finally doing, badly, what should have been done in the first place.

    The EU is bad enough.
    In the US alone, projections are for 100 000 – 140 000 DEADS. That is an official statement, tends to be conservative usually. Never mind the millions that went through the ordeal, giving birth is probably worse in terms of pain.

    So, if you get death penalty for killing someone, what do you get for letting hundred thousand die because of incompetence ?
    Never mind the buffoons at the White House, all the EU3, US3 & ME3 boards should be tried, and their companies let go with private recap. At the end of this, many of you/us will have relatives, friends or contacts that got infected because of this childish irresponsibility across all boads.

  21. In AZ the governor said something along the line, it doesn’t matter if you get tested because it won’t change the treatment plan. Well the point is that if someone has it, they should notify others in close contact to warn them. There still is a huge difference in severity because a cold/flu vs. the coronavirus as well as its contagiousness.

  22. Sadly, this is probably nothing compared to the cargo carriers who have never stopped serving China, like Fedex, UPS, Polar, and Cathay…

  23. Cover up?

    When did it become the responsibility of an employer to be aware and publisize health status?

    They can’t win. The story would have been against them if they had disclosed.


  24. The HIPAA issue. If anyone other than patients themselves or their legal reps leaked their health condition, it’s 5 million fine per case.
    When you fight the pandemics, the privacy is your enemy and I can see a clear gap between how Westerns and Asia countries honor the privacy.
    Asians chose the strategy called containment. They tested and lockdown entire region with national food deliver system. It’s not curfew, it’s military lockdown 24/7. Everyone living in your neighborhood knows you are potential exposed coz gov come to your door and put CCTV/alarm on it so you cannot step out and your family as well.
    Westerns’ called flatten the curve that intentionally expose the entire society under the new pathogen to achieve herd community but slow the exposure to make sure it is not over healthcare capacity. We tell infected to self quarantine at home but how abt their families. They are still allowed to get essential grocery.
    This will slowly spread across the world after the peak even Asian countries want to contain it but if there is one country choose to flatten the curve, all other countries has to follow with no choice.
    It’s going to be interesting to see any Intl meeting/contract sign between east and west lollll.

  25. > I doubt the company is legally allowed to tell others when someone is infected. Isn’t that a big violation of privacy?

    I work for a tech company and we were told, if tested positive, please inform your manager.
    They will take it up the chain to determine who needs to be notified (who you were in contact with) – but we were told that the actual names of the infected will not be released.
    This is done to protect infected people from any kin d of potential retaliation.

  26. @polarbear they won’t necessarily divulge the name of the person however have to identify who worked close the them It would most likely be quite clear who that person

    @oneworld airlines are continuing to fly to repatriate people. There are many hundreds of thousands by all accounts Furthermore they are also carrying freight , medical supplies etc

    The USA is full of nut jobs who believe everything is a conspiracy. The latest is 5G caused covid 19

  27. @Shawn…yes, schools are currently closed but I can assure you that teachers and students had the virus prior to schools closing.

  28. Another day, another article where Ben is defending an airline. Anyone surprised?

    ~ The Honorable Reginald

  29. Maybe a bit off topic, but looking at Flightradar24 I really do not understand what is US waiting with reducing number of flights more significantly as its obviously failing to stop spread of the virus. All around the world flights have been cut to 10% of normal, but in US it still seems they flights are almost at normal level. 55% of the flights yesterday were operated in US.

  30. 703,000+ americans died in the first 3 months of 2020…chew on that. Well..actually that’s based on 2017…so it’s more.

    some perspective. Yes, COVID-19 is now 3rd leading cause of death…but still…some perspective.

    Maybe one should study death more instead of blowing a hissy fit.

  31. You don’t need to disclose people and invade privacy. In China now any public movement, eating somewhere or going to a mall is logged now. Whilst it does feel invasive I know should anyone be found to have the virus I will be informed if I shared a public space with them. I can then isolate myself to ensure my own and others well being. Honestly the idea of my movements being logged and the invasion of any concept of privacy (which we concern ourselves so much about in about in the west ) leaves a nasty taste. But honestly I’d rather know if I could have been exposed and if I may potentially be a risk to others. We have to let go of the idea that anyone would be so interested in us to set up a system to track us for reasons unknown. No one is that special or interesting or worthy of the creation of such a system. Okay it could be abused. But the purpose is so we can be informed if we are put in any risk and to inform us so we don’t put further people in any potential harm. The risk of that may be minimal but it’s worthwhile to not have to subject the majority to suffer a potential second wave.

  32. @Icarus:

    In some cases it may be – however I suppose the notification will come as a private message to an individual: “you have been identified as at risk, please do this and that”. It would take a cooperative effort to “triangulate” the source of a threat.

    In general, would anyone want to announce their positive test (provided that people at risk were discreetly notified)? It is very hard to pinpoint an exact source of infection (especially for an airline employee) – so having one person to blame will not be a good thing.

  33. @Ben,

    Really, you may want to dial down you emotion with some of these posts. So many recently have included “we don’t know” over and over and yet you continue report almost anything that hits the internet. Are you that bored in isolation to reblog something from Huffpost as if it were truly breaking news?

    I don’t expect you will respond to my response to this post. Lately, there have been few if any responses from you to readers comments. That’s disappointing. At one time you would engage, now it seems you are on to your next blog rather than responding to comments. Prior to the pandemic, you seemed more engaged and your reporting more balanced.

  34. As a F/A for a company here in the USA, I think the numbers are far higher than anyone knows – except company officials. For the longest time, my company discouraged face masks and didn’t allow them for front end staff because “It sent the wrong message” – you couldn’t wear gloves when serving because it also “sent the wrong message” – Even now, the company says you can wear a mask but won’t mandate it. I just worked with a F/A who had a dry cough for the entire hour flight without any mask on but since there is no national grounding she was working to make money. The companies need to stop the “glorious airline” facade and mandate every flight crew and gate agent wear masks and gloves. Passengers should be required to wear masks as well. I had someone sneeze the other day without a mask and another passenger was upset he didn’t cover his face – probably an allergy but everyone is on edge. Airlines need to guarantee that every middle seat will be empty and, when possible, at least one open row between each row. And while it can be spread asymptomatically, every passenger needs to have their temperature taken before going through security. If they have a temperature, they can’t be let in the terminal and will have to be rebooked- same goes for crews. This isn’t about image anymore. It’s about safety of everyone and when people feel safer and can actually see things being done, people feel better. But the current administration looking at this as a federalist/state issue rather than federal government issue makes everything so complicated. There are still 8 states with no stay at home and Texas and Florida have waited so long it’s hard to know how many people recently left FL and spread it – the spring breakers drove. It’s hard to tell how many flew. Several of my passengers lately seem almost homeless type – probably are because the tickets are so cheap ($17 from MIA to LAX?!) – it’s just prolonging and promoting more spread. Everything needs shut down for one month to prevent it from spreading. Why on earth is NYC airports open for passengers? The government could fly in nurses and doctors if need be. But until the federal government takes ownership of shutdowns and restrictions, there is no incentive for anyone to comply with anything. The one American flight attendant just past away from it with others very sick. If you think NYC is bad…wait until the numbers start rolling in from FL and TX. I praise the mayor of Miami pleading with the government to stop flights from NYC but mayors can only do so much. Governors can only do so much (or little). I lived in China for two years and learned that anything the Chinese government says you take as 10% truth. The toll is probably closer to 40,000 or up to 100,000 in China. Prolonging the whole episode with all these state policies are going to make the airlines suffer even longer and the federal government doesnt care.

  35. HIPAA doesn’t apply in this situation. There may be state regulations that do, however employers arent an entity that HIPAA regulates.

  36. Why did you not express one iota of concern that Delta flight attendants may have been exposed in greater numbers (and who knows how many) to the Covid-19 virus. These are the folks in contact with the passengers. I’m aghast the you completely omitted something so obvious. Really??

  37. @Edward- oh come on. The article was about the pilots and the pilots being told not to say anything. Also the FA aren’t the only group pilots come in contact with.

  38. I can assure you that Delta was trying to cover this up. It is absolutely appalling. I also know for a fact that some of those on here taking up for them are delta employees in management positions.

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