Delta lawyers submitted a filing to the Department of Transportation in which they make the case that travel is unsafe and flights should be limited if at all possible.
That’s not the position Delta takes in public, of course, or emphasizes with employees. But it’s a convenient argument to make when they’re trying to reduce their service obligations under the federal airline bailout.
Under the CARES Act, airlines taking government money can’t lay off workers or reduce their pay rates through the end of September. They also have to continue serving all of the cities they served before the pandemic, unless they get a specific exemption from the Department of Transportation. DOT exemptions have been hard to come by except in limited cases.
Delta made another run at exemptions deploying the argument that flights are unsafe, and travel represents a risk to airport workers. As a result the government should allow Delta to operate fewer flights, while still taking the money, because they’re just looking out for the health of people on the front lines.
During this pandemic, airport employees and crews must place themselves at risk to staff each flight and Delta seeks to reduce this risk as much as possible. One way Delta seeks to minimize health risks to its workforce is by limiting the number of airport stations that remain open for business during the COVID-19 health emergency to reduce the total number of airport staff who must report to frontline work.
Airlines are permitted to consolidate service at a single airport in metropolitan areas with more than one – for instance service just LaGuardia in the New York area. However Delta is asking to drop service at 9 airports arguing that they’re within 75 miles of an alternate airport and less air service is safer.
Delta filing with the Department of Transportation
As the Atlanta-based carrier makes its case,
Delta recognizes that the grant of this exemption may result in inconvenience to some
members of the traveling public who will need to drive further to access Delta’s air
transportation network. However, that inconvenience is outweighed by the public health and safety of the employees that Delta is trying to protect.
Delta wants to drop air service because that will protect employees at the airports they no longer serve.
To be clear the federal government is requiring airlines to offer far more service than makes sense given passenger demand. Delta points out they’re carrying just a single passenger per day each way out of Worcester, Massachusetts. Although if that’s the case, how much of a health risk to employees can there really be?
The airline doesn’t want to operate these flights because they lose money. The requirement for airlines to operate these flights borders on the surreal. But it was clearly the deal when Delta accepted billions in taxpayer subsidies.
What could possibly lead Delta to argue, though, that air travel poses a threat to public health, when their business is air travel? They actually explain their motivation in the filing. DOT refused to grant United exemptions from serving several airports because their request was based solely on the terrible economics of flying to those airports. So Delta distinguishes their request as not being about the economics, but about public health. They’re trying to give DOT a reason to grant their request, saying it’s different from the requests being denied.
Here, by contrast, Delta seeks an exemption to protect the health and safety of airport staff by reducing their exposure to the health risks associated with COVID19. Delta submits that the public interest in protecting airport workers from the risk of exposure to a potentially deadly virus outweighs the inconvenience of the additional driving distance to access Delta’s network for such a small number of passengers.
Delta’s motivations here are transparent. They outline those motivations in their filing. However airports with the least amount of traffic also present the smallest risk to public health.
(HT: Points Pilot)