Delta Air Strains battles with nation’s largest flight attendant union over shortened Covid sick depart

Flight attendants distribute refreshments to a packed Delta Airlines flight departing from Ronald Regan National Airport to MinneapolisSaint Paul International Airport on Friday, May 21, 2021.

Kent Nishimura | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images

Delta Airlines sent a cease and desist letter to the country’s largest cabin crew union after its president criticized the company’s reduced sick leave policy for employees with Covid-19.

Last Thursday, Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson tweeted that the union had received “multiple reports” that Delta was “notifying workers in all work groups that they should come to work with symptoms, even if someone in the household tests positive.” She also said positive workers were told “to come to work after 5 days if the fever is below 100.9, even if they still test positive.”

A day later, Peter Carter, Delta’s Chief Legal Officer, mailed the letter to AFA.

“This information is not only false, it is criminal offense because it casts Delta in a highly negative light by suggesting that Delta asked employees to work while they were ill,” Carter’s letter said. “Such irresponsible behavior is inappropriate, defamatory and must be stopped immediately.”

Nelson, whose union does not represent Delta flight attendants but started one organize drive there in November 2019, defending her comments and saying Delta’s policies confused flight crews.

“Delta’s policy now addresses being asymptomatic before returning to work, which was a serious concern since those CDC policies were originally omitted from Delta’s policy announcement,” she wrote to Delta CEO Tuesday Ed Bastian. “But we still get questions from Delta flight attendants about returning to work with a low-grade fever and the fact that Delta’s current policy only recommends testing before returning to work and doesn’t require testing.”

Delta updated its Covid sick leave policy on Dec. 28 to five days off with wage protection — reduced from 10 days — that doesn’t require employees to spend days in their medical banks. Employees can get two extra days if they test positive again on the fifth day.

“Delta has always looked to science to formulate our policies regarding COVID-19,” a Delta spokesman said Tuesday. “We have sent a cease and desist letter because we believe institutions and leaders must speak carefully, truthfully and factually.”

The airline had asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to halve the recommended isolation time for breakout Covid infections to five days, warning of staff shortages and flight cancellations coming later. JetBlue Airways and other airlines asked for the same change. CDC updated its guidance Dec. 27 after relaxing recommendations for healthcare workers.

Cancellations from staff ill with Covid and a series of winter storms topped 20,000 between Christmas and the first week of the year. United Airlines, which has 10 days of wage protection left for crews with Covid, said Tuesday it would further cut its schedule, with 3,000 workers, about 4% of its US employees, testing positive for the coronavirus.

Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines Give employees 10 days of wage protection if they test positive for Covid.

American Airways jacks up flight attendant vacation pay to keep away from extra flight cancellations

An American airline Airbus A321-200 approaches Washington Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Arlington, Virginia on February 24, 2021.

Daniel Slim | AFP | Getty Images

American Airlines, shocked by Bulk cancellations last weekend offered flight attendants three times their salary for work-holiday trips, even if they are perfectly staffed by the beginning of January.

The offer comes just days after American canceled hundreds of flights last weekend and earlier this week, many of them related to flight attendant staff shortages. The added incentives show Americans are willing to pay to avoid recurrence.

American said flight attendants and reserve cabin crew members who go on business trips between November 23 and November 29 or December 22 through January 2 will be given one and a half time, according to an internal memo verified by CNBC. If you do not have any absences from November 15 to January 2, you will receive an additional 150% of the remuneration for these main travel times.

“The past few months, and last week in particular, have been challenging,” wrote Brady Byrnes, vice president of flight service to flight attendants.

“With Mother Nature devastating the operations, the myriad policy changes you had to keep up with, and an increase in incidents of customer misconduct, you are dealing with a lot,” added Byrnes, referring to an increase in recalcitrant travelers, including an alleged attack on a flight attendant by a passenger last week.

Airlines spent much of the last year pushing their employees to take vacations or accept takeovers.
When travel demand recovered in late spring and summer, some airlines did not have enough staff to cover routine disruptions such as bad weather. Southwest Airlines offered flight attendants double pay to get more people to pick up their shifts on the weekend of July 4th.