Delta pilots protest scheduling issues outside Salt Lake City International Airport

Since the start of the pandemic, Delta Air Line pilots say they have worked a record number of overtime hours.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Delta Air Lines pilots demonstrate at Salt Lake City International Airport on Thursday, April 7, 2022.

As travelers arrived at Salt Lake City International Airport on Thursday, they were greeted by about 70 Delta Air Lines pilots standing stoically with signs reading “If I look tired, it’s because I I am” and “Terrifying hours = poor reliability”.

Delta pilots silently picketed outside Terminal 1 departures to protest the company’s scheduling practices, saying they were overworked and exhausted. Passing cars honked their horns in support of the drivers. A man gave protesters a thumbs up as he entered the airport.

Since the start of the pandemic, protest spokesman Delta Captain Evan Baach said pilots have been working a record number of overtime hours to make up for staffing shortages and keep the airline afloat.

However, they did not have enough time to recover between flights. Instead, they fly on their days off and give up time with family to keep track of the number of flights booked.

“We’re here today to send a message to Delta management,” said Baach, a member of the Air Line Pilots Association, the union that represents Delta’s 13,500 pilots. “We want them to match the flight they are planning with the personnel they have.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Delta Air Lines pilots demonstrate at Salt Lake City International Airport on Thursday, April 7, 2022.

Delta pilot Reed Donoghue said the lack of available pilots leaves staff “little leeway” to reschedule flights if something goes wrong. Baach supported Donoghue noting that the current flight schedule hurts reliability.

“We’re concerned that on days with bad weather, thunderstorms, blizzards, or erratic operations where things get a little confusing, the buffer won’t be there,” Baach said, “and we can’t provide reliability that Delta Air Lines customers have come to know and love.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Delta Air Lines pilots demonstrate at Salt Lake City International Airport on Thursday, April 7, 2022.

Additionally, Baach says passenger safety is their number one priority. Pilots will cancel a flight if they are too tired to fly a plane. But with more time on the clock and fewer breaks, reports of fatigue have steadily increased.

The picket will not disrupt scheduled takeoffs from Salt Lake City. The pilots lined up outside the airport were doing it on their day off, Baach said. However, tired pilots could impact travel.

Baach thinks “the ball is in the company’s court,” noting that Delta management is aware of his scheduling and fatigue issues. In fact, Baach says Delta has recognized pilots’ desire to address these issues.

“We want them to work with us on common sense solutions,” he said. “We want them to match words with action and strive to correct our fatigue schedules now.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Delta Air Lines pilots demonstrate at Salt Lake City International Airport on Thursday, April 7, 2022.

In a statement to the Tribune, Delta said pilot schedules comply with FAA regulations and the company’s pilot contract.

“We are constantly evaluating our staffing models and planning ahead so that we can recover quickly when unforeseen circumstances arise, and the resilience of Delta residents is unmatched in this regard,” the statement read. “All of our employees, including our pilots, are working hard to restore our airline and deliver to our customers as we emerge from the pandemic. We are grateful and proud of their efforts.

The pilot picket at Salt Lake International was the union’s third demonstration. They have three more planned at other Delta hubs in Detroit, Seattle and Minneapolis later this month.

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