Delta CEO Calls 17,000 Departing Employees “Heroes”

Seventeen thousand Delta Air Lines employees, with an average of 25 years of service, have taken early departure packages according to a new internal memo from the carrier’s CEO Ed Bastian.

Even with this many people leaving the airline, Bastian says it helps them towards their goal of minimizing furloughs – it’s not, it seems, enough to eliminate layoffs. (In contrast, Southwest Arilines – when it got close to its early out goal, announced they wouldn’t furlough at least through the end of the year.)

Departing employees – who date back to predecessor airlines including Northwest, Western and Pan Am – are “heroes” according to the title of the memo. By shedding more senior staff, rather than furloughing junior staff, Delta will not only downsize but have lower payroll costs going forward. They become more cost-competitive, retaining more junior staff than would have been able to stay working for the airline under a straight seniority-based layoff scheme.

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 »

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  1. AA and UA will now be much worse off with more senior staff being paid a lot more
    SW and DL are the clear winners long term in the race

  2. Will all of these 17,000 ex-employees still get retiree travel perks? If so, there’s going to be a lot of non-revs flying whenever things resume.

  3. Hi Gary,
    I think a missing at the end of the summary version of this post is causing everything below it on the main page to be italicized.

  4. Having fewer employees saves money, but I’m not sure that retaining more junior or younger staff creates cost savings. The staff that was junior now just steps into the jobs and pay rates vacated by the staff that had been senior to them. Rates of pay are normally determined purely by the job held and duties performed. Unless there is two-tiered pay scale, hire date (seniority) normally won’t factor into pay just job assignments.

    It struck me that Bastian said: “Never did we think we’d face a year in which our revenues would evaporate overnight.” Well, in less than 20 years we’ve had 9/11, SARS and now Covid-19. Airlines have had no need to think about planning for such contingencies because they are confident that they can rely on the American taxpayer to bail them out and add to our enormous national debt.

    Adding insult to injury, thanks to net operating loss carry forward, airlines weren’t paying taxes when they were making record profits. They won’t pay taxes now and for some time to come thanks to losses they have this year and will incur probably for at least another year or two.

    Instead of stock buybacks and other excesses in good times, it seems to me taxpayers should demand that airlines do a better job of planning for unknown but probable contingencies. As it is they can just count on being able to stick it to taxpayers twice. First when they get a taxpayer bailout. Second when they pay no tax when they are raking in big profits thanks to the help taxpayers have provided.

  5. Of course you post a good DL story …. Question did you apply to AA and never get hired Gary ?

  6. And the word Hero is being thrown around a little too loosely these days …. This is from the mentality of everyone gets a trophy !!!

  7. This was a lot classier than USAir…Parker, the CEO threw hundreds of loyal employees on the street and subcontracted out the jobs for $8 with no benefits. Then he got a $4 million dollar raise a month later. The whole USAir management team suck.

  8. The employees at Delta and other airlines who leave voluntarily are heroes to us all in the sense that reductions in staff should reduce the need for additional payroll grants (which aren’t repaid) from the government. Lawmakers are promoting extending the current airline employee payroll protection grants through March 31, 2021. These employees deserve assistance but keeping them on seemingly indefinitely at full pay with no work to do seems like not the best answer. It may be years before the airline industry recovers enough to support pre-pandemic employment levels.

  9. “widely considered the best in the world” seems a serious exercise in hyperbole. The brass should try flying Cathay or Singapore some time.

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