Delta Airlines: Video Games are Better Than Unions

Delta offers industry-leading pay, largely as a result of profit sharing, and explicitly pegs that compensation goal to industry-leading performance. The airline’s two major advantages are:

  • Operational performance. They cancel flights less and do a good job operating on time, but it goes beyond that, their TechOps is a profit center performing work for other airlines.

  • Friendly and helpful staff. I largely limit this to Delta’s flight attendants and telephone agents (who may not be knowledgeable but do try to be helpful).

It’s possible to deliver good customer service in a union shop. Southwest does it, though they have the advantage of a long company culture emphasizing fun at work, along with an underdog story fighting for their survival at the outset. They have a clear mission statement and are willing to push out their worst performers.

Delta’s pilots and dispatchers are unionized. However Delta clearly benefits from having fewer unions.

The IAM is working to organize Delta’s flight attendants and fleet service workers. One of the stranger arguments they’ve made is that Delta managers have the discretion to waive attendance requirements when flight attendants get sick, one of the very things that unionized American Airlines flight attendants wish they had at their airline.

Delta has a counter-campaign. According to the airline a union is worth less to workers than a video game system.

This poster didn’t go over well on twitter (NSFW). For strong performers, however, the airline is probably right. For workers who prefer not to perform, they’re better off investing in union protections and burrowing in for seniority.

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, 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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Gary, there are two sides to every coin.

    I agree, the unions can protect workers who underperform. BUT—

    I just from a long (3 month) stay in Germany, which is highly unionized. Every German employee I spoke with–including managers ans supervisors–supported the unions. When I mentioned the “slackers” getting by, the German employees pooh-poohed this, and said that there is peer pressure in the workplace because everyone works as a team member. The English word they use in Germany is “colleague”. From the lowest to the highest there is an expectation that workers will try their best. The unions work hand-in-hand with industry to make “the machine work for everybody.”

  2. @Kimmie The standard socialist argument is “look at Europe”. I’ve spent a lot more time than you in Europe…more than 3 months. There is a reason why the economic growth rates in the EU is abysmal, and they still rely on the US for their defense. Despite a stronger unifying culture based on a more homogeneous population, they still suffer from low productivity. If they can’t make socialism work, then it certainly won’t work here, where people feel no shame about leaching off their neighbors or being a dead weight on society.

    Productive, valuable workers don’t need unions, in fact they are hurt by them. I’d rather pay for a social welfare system than encourage a system where both productive workers are punished and unproductive workers are propped up.

  3. @Gary Leff…you report on airlines yet you don’t know it’s Delta Air Lines and not Delta Airlines smh

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.