ATLANTA – With the threat of a Delta Air Lines strike over, pilots and passengers are smiling — for now.
The strike, which has been looming for months during contract negotiations, would have grounded the nation's third-largest airline if an agreement wasn't settled upon — and caused headaches for millions of travelers.
Delta pilots reached a five-year agreement with management that will bring pay hikes of between 24 and 39 percent, depending on their level of seniority and the type of plane they fly. And pilots for Delta Express, the airline's low-fare carrier, will get a whopping 63-percent raise.
Delta has also agreed to limit the number of regional jets it flies and has promised to make improvements in the pilots' retirement plan, job-security agreement and vacation benefits.
"We were really gratified to see that we could get an agreement through the collective bargaining process," said Andy Deane of the Air Line Pilots Association. "That was important to us."
In a written statement, Delta's chairman and CEO, Leo Mullin, said, "This tentative agreement gives Delta the financial and competitive framework required to be profitable and successful, especially in an uncertain economy."
Analysts say what is certain is that consumers will eventually feel this contract in their wallets. With fuel prices soaring, Delta and other airlines will have to make up the excess costs somewhere.
"We know that we as passengers pay for all of the costs for airlines," said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association. "So at the end of the day, we're going to pay for all of these contracts."
When this contract takes effect, senior Delta pilots flying the airline's largest planes will be the highest-paid in the industry.
Delta pilots will take home almost $100,000 more every year than American pilots in comparable jobs and more than double what America West pilots make annually.
The new deal is expected to drive up demands by pilots at other airlines. What it doesn't do is end a strike at Com-Air, the Delta-owned regional airline. Pilots there worry that Delta has given too much away to its own pilots – and left nothing for them.