Delta Airlines is going to begin paying its flight attendants for more of the time they’re working, in an attempt to deter them from unionizing.

Major airlines, as a rule, only pay cabin crew from the moment the plane’s door seals to the moment it opens again at their destination. But as anyone who’s ever flown before knows, the crew doesn’t just sit back and do nothing while those doors are open. Cabin crew are often the gate agents, and they help passengers board and de-board, stow and gather their luggage, and then they have to scramble to clean the plane before the next herd of passengers. All of that is unpaid time. For Delta, that’s estimated to be 35 minutes for boarding and 25 minutes for disembarkation, adding up to an hour every trip.

In the wake of massive waves of delayed and canceled flights, Delta has announced they want to increase their boarding time for single-aisle planes (most domestic planes) from 35 to 40 minutes, to help avoid delays caused by over-tight turnarounds. The already unpaid cabin crews were not pleased to be handed more time to not be paid for, and talk of unionizing increased from a whisper to a mutter. The Association of Flight Attendants, an industry union which has not yet extended to Delta, began organizing a union vote for the company.

Perhaps spurred on by that, Delta announced a 4 percent raise to all flight attendants, and half-pay for all boarding time as soon as the new extended boardings are implemented, which may take effect as soon as May 1st.

In a memo to flight attendants, Kristen Manion Taylor, Delta’s senior VP of in-flight service, said that the new pay “further recognizes how important your role is on board to ensuring a welcoming, safe and on-time start to each flight.”

Delta, like all major airlines, is still suffering from the profit loss of the pandemic. 2021’s revenue was just under $30B, a 36 percent decrease from 2019, before COVID-19. But the staffing shortages of 2021 and continuing into 2022 have been a clear sign that they, and all airlines, need to do better by their people.

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