SCOOP: Delta Air Lines Is Making Large Bonus Payments To Management Employees

Brother, can you spare $250,000?

Delta Air Lines is paying out bonuses to management employees to compensate them for pay cuts mandated in 2020 as part of the airline’s pandemic belt-tightening. An airline spokesperson confirmed the payments.

The carrier is paying out these management bonuses while on government payroll support and they aren’t offering any ‘make goods’ to front line employees who have seen their hours (and thus pay) cut, or for lower-level employees who in some cases were reduced to three or four day work weeks and received less pay.

According to a Delta employee with knowledge of the matter, the bonuses break down as follows:

  • Managers (Grades 8-10): $8,000
  • General Managers (Grade 11): $25,000
  • Directors & Managing Directors (Grades 12-13): $25,000 – $250,000
  • Sr. Vice Presidents: $250,000 or more

Delta went to great lengths to avoid furloughing any employees during the pandemic, while carriers like American and United furloughed over 15,000 workers apiece. They did this through aggressive efforts to encourage voluntary departures, reduced hours for employees who remained on payroll, and finding other jobs in the company for staff to do while reducing use of contractors and outsourcing.

Much of customer service and above- and below-the wing wing employee compensation has come in the form of profit sharing, where Delta has been by far the most generous in the industry. Employees aren’t seeing profit sharing for 2020, and saw pay cut through reduced work as well. However they’ve been fully paid for the work they did do, and don’t benefit from this program.

Instead, Delta’s make-good focuses strictly on manager-level workers only, who in some cases worked as much or more in 2020 as in 2019, but for less pay. As Delta spokesperson Anthony Black explains,

While all Delta people were affected by the worst year in our history, following a comprehensive pay review of all levels in our organization below the executive officer level, we identified levels that were disproportionately impacted as a result of last year’s events and made a one-time adjustment payment.

This is all happening as the U.S. House of Representatives passed the President’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package which includes a third airline bailout, meaning more payroll subsidies for Delta and other airlines. Yet Delta is voluntarily taking on additional payroll cost, for their highest paid workers, while taxpayers are being asked to cover the expense.

One positive spin to all this, though, is that Delta doesn’t see the need for continued belt-tightening among management employees, and this suggests the world – and airline industry – may be on the cusp of recovering.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. While several industries have been impacted by the pandemic, airline is the only one to receive funds from the government. $250,000 can easily be 4 years of salary of a professional. Ed Bastian, Scott Kirby, Doug Parker… all are greedy individuals. When tough time comes, they fail and beg for money just like any of us.

    Oh wait, they are different- because we all can accomplish the same things (cut back products, screw guests up, devalue miles…) for 1/4 of the salary they receive.

  2. This is just another example of elitist attitudes – soooo many people of WEALTH have benefited financially off the backs of the ACTUAL WORKING EMPLOYEES .. It’s soooooo very disappointing and will definitely turn off customers who are watching how they are utilizing the TAX $$$$$ BAILOUT funds.. SOOOOOOOO WRONG !!

  3. Don’t blame Delta. Our stupid Congress gave them billions of tax dollars. What else are they going to do with the windfall? Give it back?

  4. Do people really think this is some sort of generosity payment? Many other industries are booming during the pandemic, and management employees in particular have much more incentive than a front line employee to depart for another job. My guess is that these payments are to avoid brain drain and the cost of filling empty positions if these employees leave.

  5. @ Jim Baround, “brain drain” to where? I doubt there’s a great demand for these folks in the tech sector

  6. Absolutely outrageous. Frontline workers kept planes in the air while managers sheltered at home. Now taxpayers provide money while thousands go without due to Covid related job losses. For shame!

  7. @ABC you doubt that there is a demand for IT, marketing, pricing/RM, and HR employees in other sectors currently?

  8. Airline executives are the worst. None of them can think outside the box. They only shuffle around between airlines because none of them could hack it in a true corporate environment. It is like they all went to Clown College together and just cover each other’s arses.

  9. Just wait until the employees that retired early start having to pay for their own insurance. Delta, without fail, and during it’s most profitable times, have increased their insurance every year without fail. We worked through the ATC strike, 9-11, horrible CEOs, etc. Gave it our all. Yet continue to be just another number out there for them. Yes Delta, pay your top brass up to a quarter of a million dollars during this horrible time in history. Not a bit surprised.

  10. The old “let them eat cake” Well some tried storming the bastile. Congress sucks. They are not servants of the people, like all execs, they rudely serve themselves first. Do any of our leaders anywhere in the world have honor, strength and nobility?

  11. Just in the interests of accuracy, Grade 8’s were not paid $8,000. That was for Grade 10. Grade 8’s got $4,000.

  12. Note that these bonuses only go to management/executives. They did not go to the thousands of “white collar” HQ employees who they should be concerned about brain drain. This only went to people that have employees under them. Also the insanity of doing this after laying off thousands of contractors and begging nearly 20k employees to quit or retire early. They appear to have no plans to “make whole” the thousands of employees who stuck around to help save the company while often working much more than they were supposed to. Yes employees took a 25% pay cut and worked fewer hours on paper, but these same management people who are getting these bonuses also asked their employees to get significant projects done, even if it meant working more than 32 hours per week. This is a really bad look. My Delta employee friends are pretty pissed about this.

  13. And this is why we WILL see a civil war in the US. I’m 100% capitalist, but the money also has to flow downward, too, not just get greedily gobbled up at the top levels. Everyone should get rewarded in good times to varying degrees. Hogs get slaughtered – and this is just one more example of why. So unnecessary.

  14. Note that these bonuses only go to management/executives. They did not go to the thousands of “white collar” HQ employees who they should be concerned about brain drain. This only went to people that have employees under them. Also the insanity of doing this after laying off thousands of contractors and begging nearly 20k employees to quit or retire early. They appear to have no plans to “make whole” the thousands of employees who stuck around to help save the company while often working much more than they were supposed to. Yes employees took a 25% pay cut and worked fewer hours on paper, but these same management people who are getting these bonuses also asked their employees to get significant projects done, even if it meant working more than 32 hours per week. This is a really bad look. My Delta employee friends are pretty pissed about this.

  15. Yes, I agree, Delta is using Congressional monies, actual tax payer monies sooooo wrong. They are not suppose to be cutting hours. Yeah offering employees early retirement to get senior employees off their payroll.
    And the masses left who actually are working is not a true of the many who suffered and strive to make this company one of the best companies. Ridiculous. , giving some of those managers who believe that nepotism and racism and honoring their brass who are serving their own ass instead of making sure their workforce was even protected from the virus. True capitalism at its best…sad time in Delta and history itself.

  16. Just wait ’til you see the stock options that were exercised at other airlines over the past month as airline stocks rallied, esp. American whose stock has been inflated due to stock short counteractivity .
    I’m not defending anything but I guarantee you that the next chapter of the story is coming.

    It is also worth noting that Delta and Southwest are the only two major airlines that did not take CARES Act loans; only the loan portion that was part of the grants.

  17. Agree w/ Jim Baround. And who the heck thinks 250K is enough for 4 professionals? Come on people. I can not hire qualified CPAs for less than 100K. And those are “kids” under 30. Workplace is changing, and changing fast. And the “hard worker, good enough” crowd will be out of work sooner they tey imagine.

  18. @ABC

    “Brain drain to where?”

    How about the flight crews to FedEx, UPS, and Amazon. How about IT to all the other companies in the world. Airlines have very proprietary IT. Those skills are definitely in demand. Especially with everyone working from home and buying on-line. Members of management could easily go to any industry with customer services, Amazon, etc.

    United in 2005, suffered severe brain drain when United was in bankruptcy. This is what Delta is trying to prevent. While it is easy to pick on Delta, like Gary constantly does, Delta is easily the best run airline in the US. Business is going to ramp in the next 6 months. Better to be prepared for that. Also, why does everyone forget that Delta gave largest profit sharing bonus in airline history last year? Each employee received 10% of their gross pay as a bonus! In good times Delta pays bonuses that are triple United’s and 8X that of American.

    Now whether they should be paying bonuses right now is debatable. Definitely bad imaging. But, it is not unheard of, for any American business to pay bonuses during bad times.

  19. @Ex-Soviet: Allow me to respond to your comment. So you don’t think the professionals who were let go by the pandemic would accept $60,000 salary? Really you cannot hire qualified CPA for less than 100k? We all can research in Glassdoor to see the average salary of accountants/Sr. accountants. Recent graduates in NY/NJ area would be very happy to accept a $40,000-$45,000 salary. Trust me, if you post an accounting $65,000 salary job, with CPA requirement in Indeed, Glassdoor or LinkedIn, your inbox would be flooded with applications to review that you will not have time to comment here. Lastly, what state are you in so some of us and I myself can consider to move to :-).

  20. @JohnB

    Pilot “brain drain” isn’t going to happen. Seniority doesn’t transfer to other carriers if they leave.

    As for the other categories, Delta *already* decided severe brain drain was OK when it included mid-upper management in the retirement and early out packages last summer. I know of one department that lost 30% of its employees. That’s severe brain drain. But they were told it was dire times.

    Most of the upper management has turned over in the last 5-10 years. Trying to retain this “talent” while ignoring the 15-20+ individual non-manager employees is so backwards.

    Let’s also note that these bonuses appear to be flat, e.g. $4k/$8k/$25k. Not even based on salary. Just job title. This just smells very, very bad and I’m generally a pro-Delta guy.

  21. Why are you not critical of other airlines? UA, AA, WN, B6 didn’t cut their executive or management at all.

    Yet, Delta cut its bonus to zero, and cut its executive’s pay by 25% to 50% in 2020. They decided to give back a little of that back, but not even close to their normal amounts. They probably were down in compensation 40% to 70% at those levels and gave some of it back, but their compensation is still down 30% to 60%.

    Should Delta not be trying to retain its employees, or should they just let them all flee to other airlines who didn’t cut pay?

    Shouldn’t you also criticize the other airlines for not cutting pay while still taking government funds?

  22. Paying out large amount bonuses Management employees It is completely wrong decisions. What about the front line employees?
    I completely understand Delta lost lots of money.
    Front line employees Take leave of absence Without pay Lots of people suffering Try to make a living..
    At least they come up with some sort of conclusions Make those front line employees happy to.

  23. Actions like this are an inducement to all their non-union employees to unionize. This may end up be a short-sighted and costly blunder by Bastian

  24. @Jason — all employees took that hit. A 25% pay cut in addition to no profit sharing, which normally would have been in the 10-15% range.

    So yeah these exec and managers compensation was down, but so was all the other employees by roughly 35-40%. And they get no bonus.

    I think you’re severely underestimating how many people delta may retain with this. Probably only 10% of its employees fit into the categories listed above that get bonuses. That’s a lot of employees to leave out.

    I’m sure you can all hear AFA coming, and if we’re honest, possibly other organizing efforts too. Did you know Google employees have formed a union? Things that make you go hmmmm.

  25. Unions can do ABSOLUTELY nothing about this. Period. I agree , looks horrible, but a union could not prevent it.

  26. Delta mechanics, inflight and customer service: tired of watching five figure bonuses go to the fat cats sitting behind a desk all day? Tired of having pay cuts rammed down your throat?

    Then UNIONIZE. Get what you deserve.

  27. Paul Jacobson Delta CFO left for GM , so yes there are companies out there willing to pay more to attract top talent

  28. From a frontline, non-management employee… I haven’t looked into my company’s response to this article yet but I did notice that it only tells half the story. It entirely omits how much pay these salaried employees gave up last year with our CEO forgoing his salary entirely.

    How much have the executives of other airlines been paid over the past year while their unionized frontline employees have been furloughed?

  29. KMSP…………. Reality and history. Get a clue. Just look at furloughs at other airlines VS. Delta………….other airlines 1000’s Delta ZERO. Unions suck.

  30. UNION YES!
    A union offers a solid contract.
    A solid work agreement!
    No performance based raises. Where you can work you ass off and be rewarded with nothing.
    Only to see management walk away with the fruits if your labor.
    UNION’S BUILT AMERICA!
    GREEDY EXECUTIVE’S ARE DESTROYING IT!!
    DELTA EMPLOYEES, UNION YES!!

  31. Holy sht…..as a Delta retiree..this..this..is robbery, disrespectful to employees and customers..SHAME DELTA SHAME

  32. These bonuses reflect poor judgment on the part of the Delta Board and Management. The Pilots and fight attendants including the ground crew should call in sick for a day and let those guys that got bonus run the operations, including flying planes.

  33. I don’t feel sorry for an airline that is refusing service to passengers that can provide a negative test result simy because the EU doesn’t authorize and give permission for the reason of travel to a country. A reason as simple as seeing their family. That is fact…I know fr first hand being denied for not having a letter from the embassy or consulate. I was able to provide all met requirements on health and safety. So Delta, crumble due to your own fault in your decision making as to why your revenue is down as you support the EU in their Nazi Gestapo like Communist dictatorial implementation of their rules that are aimed solely at the USA for taking control of the vaccine distribution and roll out. Your a disgrace at being a ploy in this political fight. That’s not going to get you sympathy from me.

  34. Meanwhile, the CEO gives us monthly lectures on equality. So ironic that the wealthiest person in the company lectures us from his ivory tower about how we are all wrong for being unequal. If Ed believes in equality, he should start writing checks.

  35. C. Taylor, it’s obvious you’re one of the “management can do no wrong” scale employee.

    Here’s the other half of the story. Delta Air Lines management took federal bailout money and paid merit grades 8 and above checks that in many cases will restore their 2020 pay to 100%.

    You don’t get any money to restore the 25% paycut you took for most of 2020.

  36. Just more snouts at the trough courtesy of huckster senior management …feigning commitment to private enterprise while shamelessly supping at the public teet….

  37. As a front line employee this is a slap in the face. We were forced to cut our hours and told it was for the survival of the company. We saw coworkers get laid off forced to transfer to other locations to save our jobs. If any thing we are the ones suffering and Delta says we our one big happy family and they will take care of us. Nice job Ed great way to look out for your people.

  38. At best, this looks old absolutely terrible. At worst, it’s arrogant and incompetent leadership. Can’t imagine this is going over well inside Delta or on Capitol Hill.

    Great scoop, Gary.

  39. A few points not mentioned,

    A) Delta gave one of the best compensation/retirement packages in its history during the pandemic. Show me another company that did the same
    for there people.

    B) Employees that took voluntary furloughs have been collecting unemployment benefits with the bump ups and will return to work.
    Also, keeping there seniority, health benefits and all the other perks
    while on furlough.

    From what I see. Delta has handled this pandemic best they could IMO.
    Maybe some compensation back to management is due.

    Sincerely,
    Retired DAL employee 2012

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