160,000 people complained. Delta Air Lines finally did something about it

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Create a better atmosphere?

Domenica Rohrborn contacted me a few weeks ago.

Have I realized, she asked, what’s going on?

I must confess that I don’t always realize what’s going on. Maybe that’s because I rely on Twitter to keep me informed at all times.

However, Rohrborn wanted me to focus. She explained that there was something going on in the aviation world, something that had been going on for a long time.

You see, if you get on a plane and expect the flight attendant to smile at you, welcome you, and maybe even offer you a drink — if you’re being generous or flying on corporate dollars — the flight attendant isn’t paid.

“I started a petition,” explains a former flight attendant.

A petition? Oh, that will work, I thought. How often do people start petitions and nothing ever happens? (Usually.) But I clicked the link and there were 120,000 people complaining about this situation, going back to the days of the railroads.

Yes, flight attendants’ schedules mimicked railway schedules. Therefore, as Rohrborn explained, “We are only clocked for our flight times. When the pilots pause. Not when we have customers on board or delays or mechanics. Even though we are required by the FAA to complete specific work-related safety procedures and interact with customers.”

This may seem a bit ridiculous. It could also be something airlines have taken advantage of for decades.

What a Delta Air Lines announcement made last week, so strange. Suddenly Delta declared from the clear blue sky that the flight attendants would now pay for boarding.

This isn’t full pay, you see. The airline pays 50% of the standard hourly rate for boarding. That’s 50% more than the nothing they got before.

Of course I asked Rohrborn what she thought. Did I mention that her petition now has over 160,000 signatures?

She told me this was “an absolutely historic victory.”

However, she added: “The rules for this new boarding scale aren’t quite ideal – flight attendants still have unpaid time and have to get to the plane earlier. There isn’t much clarity about other incentives they usually see. It doesn’t cover mechanics or delays or airport shutdowns. Really, we should be getting 100% of our hourly rate for this time, as we’re 100% there and working and can be 100% terminated.”

And then there’s the possibility that something will be taken from the flight attendants as a twisted balancing act.

I can feel you jumping up and down with joy. Maybe flight attendants are even nicer on your next Delta flight.

I don’t like to dampen your elation, but I’d like to give one possible reason — other than the official “aren’t we great?” — for this move.

Delta faces increasing efforts to unite its flight attendants. Unlike many other airlines—and indeed Delta’s pilots—the airline’s flight attendants are not unionized.

But looking at what’s happening everywhere from Starbucks, Amazon to even Apple, many are realizing that now could be the right time for unionization. Which, of course, fills Delta’s management with indigestion.

It’s much easier if you can hire and fire at will. Even if, according to many, Delta is one of the better employers in the airline industry.

“Our time is precious and worth fighting for,” Rohrborn told me. That’s a sentiment heard by so many workers across America.

Perhaps the 160,000 who signed Rohrborn’s petition made a difference. Or maybe Delta saw this as an opportunity to blunt the unions and get some positive publicity.

It’s definitely needed lately.

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