As travelers arrived at Salt Lake City International Airport on Thursday, they were greeted by roughly 70 Delta Air Lines pilots stoically standing with signs that read “If I look tired it’s because I am” and “Fatiguing schedules = poor reliability.”
Delta pilots silently picketed outside the Terminal 1 departures in protest of the company’s scheduling practices, stating they are overworked and exhausted. Cars passing by honked in support of the pilots. One man gave protesters a thumbs up as he entered the airport.
Since the pandemic started, the spokesperson for the protest, Delta Captain Evan Baach, says pilots have worked a record amount of overtime to compensate for staffing shortages and to keep the airline afloat.
However, they haven’t had enough time to recuperate between flights. Rather, they’re flying on their days off and forgoing time with family to keep up with the number of flights booked.
“We’re out here today to send a message to Delta management,” Baach, who is a member of the Air Line Pilots Association, the union that represents all 13,500 Delta pilots, said. “We want them to match the flying that they’re scheduling with the staff that they have available.”
Delta pilot Reed Donoghue says the lack of available pilots leaves staff with “little wiggle room” to reschedule flights if something goes wrong. Baach backed Donoghue up by noting the current flight schedule hurts reliability.
“We’re concerned that on a bad weather day, thunderstorms, snowstorms or irregular operations where things get a little muddied up that the buffer isn’t there,” Baach said, “and we can’t provide the reliability that customers of Delta Air Lines have come to know and love.”
Additionally, Baach says passenger safety is their number one priority. Pilots will cancel a flight if they’re too tired to operate a plane. But with more time on the clock and fewer breaks, fatigue reports have steadily increased.
The picket won’t disrupt scheduled take-offs from Salt Lake City. Pilots lined up outside the airport were doing so on their day off, says Baach. However, fatigued pilots could impact travel.
Baach believes “the ball is in the company’s court,” noting Delta management is aware of their schedule and fatigue concerns. In fact, Baach says Delta has acknowledged the pilots’ desire to address these issues.
“We want them to work with us on common-sense solutions,” he said. “We want them to match their words with action and work on fixing our fatigue schedules now.”
In a statement to the Tribune, Delta said pilot schedules are in line with FAA regulations and the company’s pilot contract.
“We continuously evaluate our staffing models and plan ahead so that we can recover quickly when unforeseen circumstances arise, and the resilience of the Delta people is unmatched in that regard,” read the email statement. “All of our people, including our pilots, are working hard to restore our airline and deliver for our customers as we emerge from the pandemic. We are grateful for 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.