What it’s really like at Delta. “Debunking the Myth”
While waiting for my flight near Delta gates at New York LaGuardia Airport, I recently came across an interesting article (quite possibly an advertorial) in Business Insider, featuring comments of a Delta Air Lines flight attendant regarding what it’s really like to fly for Delta.
As a former flight attendant and someone who is very in touch with the issues facing the profession, I quickly noticed some essential information, anyone would want to know who was considering a career with Delta or any airline for that matter, missing from the article. Most Delta employees I’ve spoken with in recent months are very proud to fly for Delta and hold no animosity towards the airline; however, many have grown increasingly disappointed in how Delta management has arbitrarily changed their careers; adjusting their retirement and downgrading or eliminating programs and benefits which would properly reward them for their years of dedication and contribution to building and maintaining the Delta brand.
“It seems like everyone’s been invited to the party but us. Dividends for shareholders, stock repurchase plans, rising executive salaries, new clubs, refurbished interiors; yet every single time Delta announces a new uniform or some empty but flashy perk, I brace myself for what they’re really up to. It seems to always be about taking something from us to fund everything else. It’s a total shell game and we’ve been giving up things for years as they sing the blues. Now they’re making money hand over fist and we are falling behind and furious. I can no longer trust them to look out for my best interest.“ — ATL based Delta flight attendant
Most surprising thing about being a Delta flight attendant
A career as a Delta flight attendant can be a fabulously high flying adventure for sure; but once employed, don’t make the mistake of ever questioning the Delta culture unless you’re willing to spend much of your time looking over your shoulder as you push that beverage cart to Brussels or sleeping with one eye open while laying over in London.
The Delta culture is one very carefully cultivated throughout it’s history. Once representative of the family-like closeness of the Delta workforce and the legendary customer service extended to passengers, the culture has come to also include intimidation and/or punishment for employees who appear the least bit critical of Delta or do not show an acceptable level of devotion. One thing that was immediately evident as I spoke with Delta crew members was their desire to improve Delta, not destroy it.
Perks and Benefits
From glossy magazine spreads to employee “Sky Spa” openings, Delta has launched an extensive campaign to present an image of “pie-in-the-sky” to the public; showing an airline that lavishly pampers its employees. A high percentage of flight attendants I’ve chatted with in Delta concourses are growing tired of seeing this image of glitz and glamour Delta portrays to the public as they’re forced to experience a very different “let them eat cake” reality. While flight attendants at Delta deal with deteriorating working conditions, such as reconfigured or “optimized” galleys that force them to stand for virtually the entire flight, executives and shareholders are enjoying the richest times in the airline’s history.
“I wish Delta spent more time thinking about how to provide us with what we deserve in pay, benefits and work rules instead of looking for sneaky ways to cheat us while telling the public how good they are to us and practically forcing us to play along with the charade or risk being called into the office snd even fired” —- Salt Lake City based flight attendant
Changes made to Delta’s medical benefits have created added stress to the lives of employees who are often blindsided at the drugstore by major increases in prescription costs. For those injured on the job, Delta utilizes the services of Sedgwick Claims Management Services to delay and deny claims and systematically exhaust employees who are seeking benefits after being hurt while working. These employees have had to rely on law firms who’ve created entire divisions to fight for these long term disability benefits even though they’ve been paying premiums for the coverage for years.
Measuring itself against unionized carriers, Delta is known for raising the compensation of its own flight attendants just enough to convince them they don’t need to bring in a union and then once the union threat passes, things mysteriously snap back to what they were before and since there is no contract they are able to do it.
Most, even the new hires I’ve spoken with in Minneapolis, aren’t being fooled by the smoke, mirrors or the popcorn, hot dogs and even cotton candy Delta cheerfully surprises employees with in crew lounges from time to time. One new-hire joked that they do appreciate the free food, but wonder why the effort goes into this type of thing rather than fixing the real issues.
One of the most positive aspects of the flight attendant career is the flexibility including trading trips and enjoying blocks of days off. Flight attendants are also able to fly as few or as many hours as they wish; although one must maintain a yearly minimum to maintain benefits and minimum crew rest periods must be adhered to.
The Delta Time Machine
Delta’s crew scheduling department is also practicing their own version of scheduling flexibility according to a crew I ran into at the LGA Delta Terminal. After working a day rife with ground delays, they were reaching their maximum duty time when including the flight time for their last leg from Atlanta to New York. When one of the flight attendants called crew schedule to alert them, they were then told that the flight time had been adjusted to allow them to do the flight.
“Don’t tell Delta you are maxed out! They just change the flight time and tell you to get on the plane. Our cockpit had not worked as long of a day as we had and they were fine, but our captain was shaking his head and told us there was no way we could fly from Atlanta to New York in the amount of time crew schedule had adjusted our flight time to. There’s just nowhere for us to turn and no one to call in this type of situation. You just have to do it or get fired.” — Delta flight attendant
I’ve chatted with countless Delta flight attendants that are flying in constant fear that they may be randomly disciplined and even terminated for any reason. Unfortunately, this has raised the level of anxiety in this workplace as employees are called into the office, having been turned in by fellow employees for items they share and statements they make on Facebook; even in private groups. My mole in Delta’s general offices informs me that this has become a normal practice in order to send a message throughout the Delta system that social media is not a safe place for workplace discussions, unless of course it’s to praise Delta. Screenshots are being taken, even in private non-public groups, and sent to management by self appointed snitches; with names being added to secret “watch” lists.
“I know a fellow Delta flight attendant who also assist flight attendants in crisis and she says she has never seen so many FAs ‘on the ledge’… We have had numerous suicides and people are just absolutely broken. Our environment has become so evil and toxic. It truly feels like the movie “The Firm”, but with wings and great uniforms!” ATL based Delta flight attendant
The evil and toxicity this flight attendant speaks of seems to describe the intra-company campaign to keep Delta flight attendants paralyzed, unable to act against the intimidation and retaliation directed to any employee who dares to question the policies or leadership at Delta. Many are afraid to commiserate with fellow employees on or off the job, fearing they may be unknowingly speaking to a snitch who will report them to management as a way to ingratiate themselves and be added to the “good-list”.
“Yes, we make a decent hourly wage, but you have to take into account all the time we are not being paid for during boarding and most delay situations. Also when you take inflation into account, I am making less now than I did decades ago. Plus Delta has a “Social Security offset” which actually gives me a lower pension benefit since I’ll be receiving Social Security. It’s designed to keep me poor in retirement. This is what I get for being a dedicated Delta employee? The only ones who don’t care are the executives, the ones who have married rich, live off of their parents, are a trust fund baby or who have a sugar daddy. This is real life at Delta and after 30 years, I feel like I’m in career quicksand” — JFK based Delta flight attendant
Frustrated with uncertainty, Delta flight attendants are signing cards requesting an election in order to vote for union representation by the IAM. Although this is not the first time Delta flight attendants have sought union representation, Delta’s actions in the previous attempt by flight attendants to unionize are still being investigated.
Management has launched a multifaceted campaign to flood flight attendants with anti-union propaganda. Screen-savers on airport computer terminals, flyers in crew lounges, wraps on employee buses and a perpetual barrage of email messaging is what Delta flight attendants have grown used to wading through.
At the same time, policy has been put in place which forbid an employee to place bag tags on their crew luggage which display any language in support of or against union representation. Not surprisingly, Delta has reportedly taken aggressively to selective enforcement of pro-union flight attendants while turning a blind eye to those displaying anti-union paraphernalia.
Delta pleads that the unions are only coming in to extract dues money from their members. Many flight attendants see a union as a way to counter the massive human resources team Delta has on hand to crush any employee who who attempts to fight for or even improve their career.