Delta Air Lines, which has narrowly rebuffed several attempts to unionize its flight attendants, will start paying cabin crew when boarding, a first for a major U.S. airline and a change that should boost their salaries by several thousand dollars a year.
This is a notable change for US airlines, where payment for flight attendants begins when all passengers are seated and the plane doors close.
Delta said the change will begin June 2 on all flights. In a note to flight attendants, the airline said the new salary “further recognizes the importance of your role on board in ensuring a welcoming, safe and punctual departure for each flight”.
The pay rate during boarding is 50% of the regular pay rates.
The change comes as Delta plans to increase the boarding time for single-aisle or “narrow-body” aircraft from 35 minutes to 40 minutes, which the airline says will increase the percentage of flights that depart at time.
Delta pilots are represented by a union, but several attempts to organize flight attendants have failed in the face of fierce opposition from the Atlanta-based company. The Flight Attendants Association, which has been planning an organizing campaign at Delta for more than two years, took credit for the boarding allowance.
“This new policy is a direct result of our organizing,” the union said. “As we get closer to casting our union vote, management is getting nervous.”
The union said Delta is also responding to employee anger over longer boarding times, during which flight attendants are currently unpaid.
Delta said the new boarding allowance will be in addition to the 4% increases it gave to flight attendants last month.
Unions represent more than 80% of workers at American, United and Southwest, but a much lower percentage at Delta.
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