Delta Pilots Angry Their Jobs Are Being Outsourced

Filed Under: Delta, Unions

While Delta in general has the best labor relations of the “big three” US carriers, the company’s pilots have had a serious disagreement with management over scope for several years now. The union representing pilots is once again bringing this to the forefront, especially as Delta pilots are about to face layoffs.

Delta pilots complain of “intolerable” outsourcing

The Delta Air Lines chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) is bringing up major scope issues once again, claiming that Delta is outsourcing pilot jobs in an unacceptable way.

Delta Air Lines has spent the past many years building up a global network of airline partners, through a combination of joint ventures and equity investments.

In a note to members, ALPA is expressing concerns about how the pandemic has reduced flying to negligible levels, and that as flying is added back, Delta’s joint venture partners are recovering flying faster and disproportionately compared to Delta.

The union provides the following examples of how flying is being added back with joint venture partners:

  • Across the Pacific, Korean Air operates 39 flights per week, while Delta operates 15 flights per week (so Korean Air is operating ~72% of flights)
  • Across the Atlantic, Air France operates 39 flights per week, while Delta operates 18 flights per week (so Air France is operating ~68% of flights)
  • Also across the Atlantic, Virgin Atlantic is operating six additional flights per week compared to Delta

Just to be clear, in each of these cases Delta not only owns a stake in the airline, but also has a joint venture. With a joint venture, airlines share revenue, meaning that Delta benefits even when a partner airline adds flights.

The letter from the union to pilots goes on to state the following:

This is intolerable. Delta must honor our scope agreements, especially with Delta pilot jobs at imminent risk. We cannot allow our flying to be outsourced to foreign carriers while management is threatening Delta pilots with furloughs.

Delta spent billions on failing international partners; money that we could certainly use during these difficult times. We cannot change management’s previous decisions to sink billions into these carriers. Still, we can enforce our scope language and insist on equitable flying in the future. When international travel returns, Delta needs to be ready to offer customers our premium product world-wide.

Delta pilots & management have long had scope disagreements

Delta pilots are in the right here

Some might be inclined to say “whiny unions, the pilots should just be happy to have jobs right now.” The truth is that the pilots actually are in the right here, even if this might not seem like the ideal time to pick this fight.

First of all, a key part of Delta’s global airline strategy has absolutely been to outsource flying to other airlines. Last November Delta’s CFO more or less admitted this. During an investor conference he stated that the transatlantic joint venture enables Delta to “broaden the network internationally and globally with a much more effective return on invested capital formula than it would be for us to buy widebody airplanes and go out and grow that organically.”

From the perspective of pilots, who primarily benefit from Delta actually adding more flights on its own metal, I can understand how this is frustrating.

But it’s not just that these actions have caused frustration, but rather management has actually been violating the agreement with pilots.

The union claims that Delta has committed 21 scope violations during this contract cycle, including 10 related to Korean Air, seven related to Aeromexico, three related to WestJet, and one related to the A350.

Th union has won grievances against the airline related to scope, and settlements have even been reached for pilots.

The union even has a special website set up for this issue — dalscope.org — which has all kinds of details about the terms being violated (including some videos that provide a good rundown of what’s going on).

While this might not be the opportune time to point out flying imbalances between Delta and partners given the extraordinary circumstances, I also can’t blame pilots for bringing it up, as their jobs depend on it.

Delta pilots are facing significant layoffs come October, and pilots feel like there would be fewer layoffs if Delta weren’t outsourcing so much of its flying to partner airlines.

Delta pilots don’t like how much transpacific flying Korean Air is doing

Bottom line

Delta pilots have long been in a dispute with management over the way that a disproportionate amount of growth has been on partner airlines. In many cases Delta is violating its scope agreement with pilots, and the union has won.

While pointing out the imbalance of flying at this very point might seem petty given the circumstances, I can’t blame pilots, as their jobs are at risk.

Comments
  1. Those countries also rely more heavily on international travel than US carriers. US carriers fly more domestic flights BY FAR than any of those carriers do in their countries. In those countries people take trains when they want to travel domestic. Here, people fly. Comparing US carriers international flights to foreign carriers is not equal.

    Also, don’t forget how many countries have restrictions for US citizens traveling to them at the moment. Pilots need to understand the carriers can’t force people to fly international right now.

  2. Hah!

    Air France fly more than Delta!

    But Air France must be more expensive than Delta to operate the flights!
    Very interesting.

  3. All the airlines mentioned deliver a better product then Delta so, the best for the traveling public would be to outsource ALL the flights.

    US carries are destroyed by the unions.

  4. This would be the perfect time for Delta to break the union. There will be thousands of qualified pilots without jobs soon. Delta can play hard ball and use their leverage to improve their position.

  5. ALPA is right to call out the company on is ongoing and now increasing violations of scope.

    Today would actually be the perfect time to reset all the JV flying to ensure resumed flying levels are properly distributed across the partners as required.

    There is no reason DL employees should be sitting at home when JV partners are doing flying beyond what is contractually approved.

  6. The videos and graphics on the listed website are quite well made.

    An interesting note I’d point out is that the issues seem to do with “future growth” of pilot wide body opportunities instead of “current availability” – and that this “outsourcing” is predominantly occurring with allied developed countries of which the partner airlines’ pilots are also unionized.

  7. Dave S. and Erik, you know nothing about unions in the U.S., except that you seem to hate them. Unions make the field a little a little less stacked against the individual pilot (put whatever you want in here–truck driver, train conductor, etc.) so that you have a semblance of a fair shake when you go into talk to management. Sure there are attempted union overstepping the bounds, but that is almost non-existent in the airlines because of the high level of professionalism of the the leadership and the input of the local membership. The same type of professionalism you see in the cockpit is the same type of professionalism when working with management. Finally, if management would pay fair wages and put in place fair working conditions, we wouldn’t need unions; they would just dry up and go away.

  8. @ Ben “When to unions win a grievance” what does the union receive cash, an apology, or just a correction?

  9. Presumably many of the airlines flying ‘more flights than us’ are losing money on many of the routes. So Delta should increase it’s flying lightly filled planes to lose more money and accelerate their path to destruction? Then good luck to them on filing another grievance against their airline when it’s in Chapter 7. There’s another angle to this that I guess the omniscient Ben didn’t consider.

  10. @Erik
    “All the airlines mentioned deliver a better product then Delta so, the best for the traveling public would be to outsource ALL the flights.

    US carries are destroyed by the unions.”

    HA that’s laughable! I’m guessing you’ve never flown international Business class on KE, AF or AM??

    While nice, the KE flight attendants are like robots with no warmth or personality. Only on a select few planes do they offer all aisle access in Business. Don’t even get me started on KE’s food. It’s tiny portions and the flavor is relatively bland. Their only “snack” in between meal service is a microwaved bowl of ramen noodles.

    AF – Limited number of planes with all aisle Business class, mediocre food and surly French flight attendants who insist on doing the bare minimum. Asking for anything is a pure inconvenience and they make it known!

    AM – Very basic product, all 2x2x2 Business in long-haul. Food and seat are marginal at best.

    Now had DL had partners like SQ, QR, TK then I would agree. BUT while there’s a lot to be critical about DL for you simply cannot claim with a straight face that KE, AF and AM all offer a
    better product.

  11. They’re in the right here, and it is perfectly within their right to be concerned about their job especially in the future. European unions are generally stronger than American ones, easy to see with the amount of strikes in the last few years.

    I get that Delta (or rather, Ed) mean to make their investments pay off, but at the cost of their own pilots? Ethics aside, is it really that much more profitable to fly an Air France plane over a Delta one? Crew pay for European airlines must be higher, surely, given the strength of our unions?

  12. @Nate van der Woodsen

    I strongly disagree with your general assessment of Air France, which I fly internationally more than a dozen times a year. The current mixed-bag of aircraft Business Class configurations IS an issue the carrier needs to address. But I find the meals served on Air France to be excellent; they’ve had a reputation for good food since the days of the Constellations. As for the cabin crews, they are SUPERB; polite, professional, warm, funny, eager to be of assistance and tolerant of the human condition. I was a flight attendant for three decades, so I know when cabin service is good, bad or indifferent, and I’m loyal to Air France because of their consistently high inflight service standards. (And I started flying Air France when their jet fleet consisted of only Caravelles and 707’s…)

  13. Delta is also using their JV to weasel out of delivering frequent flier benefits. I’m a long time Diamond and I get different (and less) treatment on Virgin or Korean metal as opposed to flying DL metal.

  14. My heart bleeds purple jelly for all the $250-$300k pilots whose next best opportunity is at Home Depot.

  15. But at the same time, those JV carriers are also taking the risk of flying nonprofitable routes. And it’s a bit disingenuous to call out carriers like KE having more flights to the US than DL, when the entire country of South Korea is about the size of the state of Indiana. DL has the entire US domestic market at their disposal.

    Fact is Delta decided to operate a business model that focuses more on domestic and only limited amount of international routes that they deem profitable. They chose to partner with international carriers because it made sense at the time. Now it doesn’t and it’s hurting both the company and its employees. I find this similar to when Delta bought the oil refinery and it was lauded as a out-of-the-box approach to managing their cost. But now they are stuck with it and it is losing money. I believe the same is applicable here.

  16. Raleigh Truitt, Actually I know quite a bit about union as I have been a member of the National Right to Work committee for over 25 years. I have been involved extensively in trying to eliminate union restrictions that cripple American competitiveness and prevent the most qualified worker from getting a job and prevent the best performing worker from earning more money. Unions while they may have has some value in the early 1900s, are really generally unneeded today and are just are a mob mentality applied to the workplace. Today’s workplace is in general not a repetitive work factory floor, where seniority is prized but rather is a more complex endeavor where performance should be valued over seniority. Today’s workers deserve a meritocracy not a seniority system that equates longevity to value. Unions damage the relationship between employees and ownership/management as it places a third party between the employee and the management. Both parties are best served with a caring direct relationship. Companies which can not retain good employees get what they deserve in the long run. Employees who are substandard employees get what they deserve long term as well, unions only subvert the process.

  17. @ Johnny.

    Nice try. Every airline pilot has a degree…many with MBA, MS, MA and PhDs, and some are Attorneys and business owners on the side. You want to cry that they make 250-300K. Awwe Sorry but the world needs ditch diggers too Johnny. You had the same opportunity.

    Now i suggest you put the Xbox down, grab some snackees and get out on the streets at theres some RIOTIN’ to be done by you liberal dolts! 🙂

  18. As a member of a union myself, I will be the first to criticize the problem of employers not being able to fire bad employees. Whether it be cops or airline employees, there are a lot of bad apples that need to go that unions protect. However, I believe in unions for this very reason….they keep a watch over the company policies and point out blatant disregard of contracts and negotiated terms. I don’t need a union to babysit me, but I need it to keep the company on their toes when it comes to any violations of benefits, work schedules, and work conditions as agreed to in a contract. Fire the terrible employees, I don’t care – but this pandemic as exposed just how vulnerable Americans are with no job security, no health care, and having zero say in anything with their companies. The pilots are totally in the right here – especially with so many jobs at risk.

  19. Having worked in aviation safety and having read all kinds of horror stories at my job I can say without a doubt that even if airlines from the US are trash, I would want to fly with a US trained and regulated pilot any time of the day without question. Sure there are the rogue drunks and nut jobs but by far US pilots (be it they are better trained, more heavily monitored by the FAA, easier to lose your license and entire career) they are far more likely to do the right thing. I have spent years reading reports of international pilots that will make you never want to fly again. Its like knowing what goes on in the kitchen of a restaurant will make you never go out to eat, that level of craziness goes on in a plane from some countries. I’m not naming anyone so don’t ask. I will never fly some of those airlines because I do know what their pilots are like. I have flown in countries and pay double the price for a different airline mainly because you can’t give me enough of a discount to fly with them. I know it all too well. Its staggering how fortunate people are that there aren’t more fatalities with some of these airlines. As far as I’m concern US pilots on the average deserve their high pay.

  20. @Dave S
    I am not sure if you realize but without dalpa there would be no delta air line pilots at all it would be all outsourced contract flying where the pay is terrible and the work rules no existent. Plus there is no objective way to measure pilot performance that does not compromise safety so you need to maintain seniority, and airline workers are regulated under RLA which means they are except for basically all workplace regulation depending on the union to make up the difference. If you want to know what’s killing us companies’ performance maybe consider that the average executive in the US makes 1.5 times his EU counterpart and the huge number of worthless MBA we employ in the US.

  21. @Super VC10

    Okay, well no need to take my word for it. Lucky has the exact same sentiments about AF flight attendants. Why don’t you read it for yourself:

    “ The crew just wasn’t friendly. They weren’t actively unfriendly, but it was also just clear they weren’t happy to be working.

    I don’t know if the crew had a self-imposed word limit for the flight, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a business class crew speak so few words to me.

    When pre-departure drinks were served, the flight attendant didn’t say anything. He just held out the tray and stood there.

    When it came time to serve the meal, the flight attendant didn’t ask what I wanted to eat but just stood there until I said something.”

    https://onemileatatime.com/air-france-787-business-class/#air_france_business_class_service

  22. Dave S – All you’ve got is talking points–no substantive arguments that could persuade. Who exactly is the american airline industry not competitive with? You’re talking abject nonsense here, especially considering that all Western airlines–our “peer”group–are unionized. And, how are you going to tell which pilot is “better” that another so you can “rank” them all for the highest pay and the best schedules? Can you even make this kind argument with a straight face? And what good would that scheme do in any case? I repeat that if all you’ve done is look from the outside in, as a critic and nothing else, you basically know nothing about unions–especially in the transportation industry. You’ve just got a political agenda and one that is woefully uninformed about the realities of devoting your life to a career, undergoing training and checks constantly, and serving a long apprenticeship–a career that is only protected from management whims and abuses (yes, they do that) by linking arms to speak with an equal voice. I repeat, unions won’t ever spring up where they’re not needed.

  23. Dave S – All you’ve got is talking points–no substantive arguments that could persuade. Who exactly is the american airline industry not competitive with? You’re talking abject nonsense here, especially considering that all Western airlines–our “peer”group–are unionized. And, how are you going to tell which pilot is “better” than another so you can “rank” them all for the highest pay and the best schedules? Can you even make this kind argument with a straight face? And what good would that scheme do in any case? I repeat that if all you’ve done is look from the outside in, as a critic and nothing else, you basically know nothing about unions–especially in the transportation industry. You’ve just got a political agenda and one that is woefully uninformed about the realities of devoting your life to a career, undergoing training and checks constantly, and serving a long apprenticeship–a career that is only protected from management whims and abuses (yes, they do that) by linking arms to speak with an equal voice. I repeat, unions won’t ever spring up where they’re not needed.

  24. Also, Korean Air had more flights prior to this pandemic. What was the ratio before the pandemic? I would say Delta was smaller going into the pandemic. Similar logic should be applied to transatlantic as well.

  25. Keep in mind that all these airlines have different strategies than Delta. Delta (and U.S. Carriers) by far serve Americans and people traveling to/from America and depend on the domestic market as feed. A Lot of foreign airlines connect the world through their home country ( and usually one hub airport). For example, a passenger might fly from Hanoi Vietnam, to Seoul to LAX via KE … but I highly doubt any passenger would fly from Seoul to Atlanta to London via Delta. Not to mention that it’s much easier to add a flight for them from one airport vs. US airlines having to decide which of their hub gets the flight and then domestic connectivity/feed from there.

    Brazil and the US have a fairly similar network/pandemic situation. LATAM and Delta are much more comparable right now than AF, KE, and VS.

    Also keep in mind that each of these countries have largely opened up and their citizens are free to move about the country and internationally without as strict rules as Americans. Americans can barely travel between states without strict quarantine measures. And which American is really travelling with all that in place?

    While Delta sure has violated scope clauses in the past, I disagree with this being a violation due to the pandemic. In this case, Delta is doing what’s right for the business until American demand for travel returns. Maybe some senior pilots are mad they will be displaced off they higher paying wide body aircraft? For Delta to add flights back, the country needs to get this pandemic under control within its borders like other counties has.

  26. This sounds like a good business strategy for Delta. Also sounds like a good way for the union to show everyone why members should keep paying union dues, which is a good business strategy for the union. The only ones losing out are the highly trained, at-risk pilots. The ones who are actually doing something worth anything.

  27. “big three”? Lol. Pretty dated. More like big four.
    Passengers enplaned
    1 Southwest Airlines WN 162,681,079
    2 Delta Air Lines DL 162,493,994
    3 American Airlines AA 155,784,648
    4 United Airlines UA 116,255,636
    5 JetBlue Airways B6 42,836,468
    6 SkyWest Airlines OO 42,328,839
    7 Alaska Airlines AS 35,452,332
    8 Spirit Airlines NK 33,868,007
    9 Frontier Airlines F9 22,666,424
    10 Republic Airways YX 18,844,915

    Revenue passenger miles
    1 Delta Air Lines DL 217,588,834,818
    2 United Airlines UA 213,118,930,464
    3 American Airlines AA 212,832,519,225
    4 Southwest Airlines WN 131,348,644,590
    5 JetBlue Airways B6 53,619,355,173
    6 Alaska Airlines AS 50,357,433,518
    7 Spirit Airlines NK 35,245,226,424
    8 Frontier Airlines F9 24,166,696,466
    9 SkyWest Airlines OO 22,627,549,294
    10 Hawaiian Airlines HA 17,792,113,608

    Source https://www.bts.gov/airline-rankings-2019

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