Imagine showing up to work but not getting paid for the first half-hour you're there. You're still expected to work--in fact, imagine those first 30 minutes or so are the most stressful part of your job--you just don't get paid. You'd probably find a different job.
If you're like me, you probably had no idea flight attendants don't get paid until the aircraft door closes. On an international flight, when you include the time for check-in and a briefing, flight attendants are expected to show up an hour and a half before a flight is expected to leave. None of that time is paid.
All that time they spend helping people find their seats, cramming luggage in overhead compartments, and dealing with everything else that comes with getting 100 or so people on a long metal tube--none of it is paid. Well, until now.
This week, Delta said it would start paying flight attendants 50 percent of their hourly rate for boarding time. It also said it would extend the time for boarding domestic flights to 40 minutes, up from 35 minutes. This comes after Delta previously announced it would be giving employees a 4 percent raise, starting May 1.
That's obviously good news, especially if you're a flight attendant. I just find it hard to believe no airline has done this before. I mean, it kind of makes sense that if you expect someone to show up and do their job, you should pay them for that work. Especially when you consider that work is a critical part of an essential industry.
During the pandemic, while millions of people figured out how to work remotely, flight attendants and pilots were considered essential workers. That meant they were required to come to work, even as everyone else was encouraged to stay home.
Also, let's not forget that coming to work meant dealing with mask mandates, unruly passengers, delays, staffing shortages, and all of the anxiety that comes with spending a few hours with 100 strangers, any one of whom might be carrying a highly contagious virus. It also meant dealing with all of that during the time when you weren't even getting paid.
Of course, the reason no airline has done it before is that, at some point, they created this weird system of how they pay their flight attendants and everyone just went along with it. A similar system is in place for pilots.
"It's about time," one Delta flight attendant told me on a flight this past Monday. "But they're just doing it because they think it will stop the union."
That raises an interesting point. Delta's flight attendants, unlike those at the rest of the major airlines, aren't unionized. That's despite repeated attempts over the years by employees to form a union. The last time it came up for a vote, the effort failed by only a few hundred votes out of more than 20,000 flight attendants. Even Delta's pilots are members of the Air Line Pilots Association.
But the flight attendants aren't unionized--and Delta would like to keep it that way. While the company says the change isn't related to the effort to form a union, it's hard to think there isn't at least some connection. Delta has fought hard against previous efforts to unionize its flight attendants.
"Delta has a long track record of taking care of our people, and as the CEO said, this is a well-deserved base pay increase for our people who continue to excel at safely taking care of our customers with a travel experience that sets us apart," an airline spokesman told CNBC.
In the past, the company prevailed because it was known for paying its employees well, usually better than the contracts offered by its competitors. Over the past two years, however, that changed. The raise Delta announced earlier this year was the first since 2019. You might say it's about time.
Another flight attendant I spoke with didn't think the change would persuade their peers to vote against the union. "It's time," they said. "A lot of us just don't trust them to do the right thing anymore."
That sentiment was shared in a statement by the union:
Delta management announced this evening that flight attendants will be paid for boarding. It seems they are feeling the heat. Keep going! Every improvement they add now will get locked in when we vote for our union because they can't retaliate and take it away.
I'm sure you can see why that's a problem. Trust is your most valuable asset, and if your people don't trust you to do the right thing--or if they think you might change your mind--you're doing it wrong. It means you've got some work to do.
Paying employees for the time you expect them to show up to work is absolutely the right thing to do. That no other major airline has done it so far doesn't change that fact. If you do the right thing for the right reason, you deserve the credit for making the right decision.
Of course, if you do the right thing for the wrong reason--if you do it because you're trying to fight off a union, for example--you get some credit for doing the right thing, but you're also going to take a lot of flack for the other part.
That's because it doesn't seem like you're doing it to take care of your people. It seems like you're just trying to appease them enough to keep them from doing something you don't want them to do.