In Revolutionary Move, Delta Will Start Paying Flight Attendants For Time Spent During Boarding

Delta has made a move that’s going to be a huge hit with employees, and engender jealousy across the industry. Flight attendants are getting a raise, and it’s coming in the form of addressing a real sore spot in compensation. This could keep unionization at bay, while trolling employees of their biggest competitors. Already I’m hearing from cabin crew at other airlines who are up in arms over their own pay.

Flight attendants are generally paid a wage based on how long their flights are, and this doesn’t usually include time spent boarding – which can be one of the most stressful and hard-working times during a flight. Still, this isn’t an accident:

  • Flight attendants get more money for the time they are paid to account for boarding
  • Flight attendants generally want it this way since they negotiate it as part of union contracts, it’s a perennial sore spot.

Earlier this year a petition obtained over 160,000 signatures to get flight attendants paid during boarding, even though ‘not paying for boarding time’ has been viewed as an elegant solution to a complex problem. Flight attendants don’t want to clock in and out of each flight to the minute, separate from checking in to work the flight. And when a flight is delayed, causing the airline boards more quickly, flight attendants don’t want to make less money because boarding took less time.

Delta, though, is going to pay a flat amount of time based on scheduled boarding. This coincides with moving boarding time 5 minutes earlier for domestic mainline flights, and in an internal communication the airline describes it as “an industry first.” The new pay is in addition to profit sharing announced in March, and pay increases that go into effect in May.

Here are the new pay rates based on seniority. There’s an hourly wage and it’s paid out (pro-rated) based on the amount of time boarding is scheduled for:

Delta is mostly non-union (pilots and dispatchers are unionized). The airline’s messaging hasn’t always been spot on trying to stop union drives. Both Sara Nelson and the International Association of Machinists have wanted to represent flight attendants at Delta.

This move is clearly designed to keep unionization at bay. It’s something unions at other airlines haven’t been able to win, and ‘lack of pay during boarding’ is something that many flight attendants across airlines resent.

It could also start a new trend across the industry. American’s flight attendants union is currently in contract negotiations. It’ll be hard for them to sell a contract to their membership that doesn’t include what Delta flight attendants are getting and that will be fresh on everyone’s mind. What good is the APFA, if they can’t deliver what flight attendants can get without a union?

At most airlines pay based on scheduled door close/door open time is exactly how flight attendants have agreed to be paid in contracts negotiated by their unions. It’s taken a non-union airline to change this. And it was only just before the pandemic that Delta already unilaterally gave its non-union employees a big raise, and then they didn’t furlough anyone during the pandemic while unions failed to prevent furloughs at American and United.

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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