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Delta, Facing a Union Drive, Says It Will Start Paying Flight Attendants During Boarding

Elijah Nouvelage | Bloomberg | Getty Images
  • Delta says it will start paying flight attendants during boarding, a first for a U.S. carrier.
  • The announcement came amid a unionization drive.
  • Delta is the only major U.S. airline whose flight attendants aren't unionized.

Delta Air Lines said it will start paying flight attendants during boarding, a first for a major U.S. airline and an initiative that comes during a unionization drive for the Atlanta-based airline's biggest work group.

Usually, flight attendants are paid starting when the aircraft doors close.

Delta plans to begin the boarding pay, half of flight attendants' hourly rates, on June 2, according to a company memo. The carrier is also increasing boarding time for narrow-body flights to 40 minutes from 35, which the company says is "one of several steps we're taking to add resiliency to our operation."

The pay changes were announced as a union campaign by the Association of Flight Attendants that started in late 2019 picks up steam again as the Covid pandemic crisis wanes for airlines.

Delta's more than 20,000 flight attendants are not unionized, unlike those at other major U.S. airlines.

"As we get closer to filing for our union vote, management is getting nervous," the AFA said late Monday in a statement. The organization is the country's largest flight attendants union, representing cabin crews at United, Spirit, Hawaiian, Alaska and Frontier, among others.

"In this case, they also know that changing domestic boarding time from 35 to 40 minutes without adding a benefit would create an uproar — just as the 'test' in Atlanta did back in October," the AFA said, referring to a test of the new procedure last fall.

Henry Harteveldt, founder of travel consulting firm Atmosphere Research Group, said Delta's move is "proactive."

"If people feel like they are not being treated well they are more open to joining a union," he said.

The boarding pay is on top of the 4% raises Delta announced in March, employees' first annual increase since 2019.

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