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Delta and Northwest Pilots Agree to a Contract, But We're Not Done

Delta put out a release yesterday saying that the airline had reached an agreement on a joint contract between the Delta and Northwest pilots to take effect once the merger is complete. Sounds great, of course, but it's a little premature to get excited about this being a done deal. The big issue between the two groups was, of course, seniority, and that is outside the scope of the agreement between the pilot groups.

First, a little background. Delta came to an agreement with its pilots for a strong raise upon completion of the merger, but Northwest pilots did not jump on the bandwagon, mostly because of concerns about seniority integration. In the airline world, seniority is just about everything. It determines the aircraft you fly, the schedules you get, and a host of other things. So, it's always the most contentious issue. In my estimation, this prospect of a raise up to Delta levels was supposed to be a big enough carrot to entice the Northwest pilots to give some ground on seniority, but it didn't happen right away.

Now the airline is saying there is an agreement, and that appears to be true, but seniority isn't a part of it. See, seniority integration is the responsibility of the two pilots groups and not management, so it's outside of the contract with Delta. That's why we saw the following quote in the release.

The pilot groups also have established a separate process designed to establish a single pilot seniority list by the close of the merger.
Um, that doesn't sound like they've solved the seniority issue to me. It sounds like the two groups have set up a process to achieve seniority integration, but if you think that'll go smoothly, then you clearly haven't been watching the US Airways/America West pilot groups fight out seniority in public.

So ok, they have a contract, but the seniority issue could still cause plenty of problems down the road. It's a little too early to get excited.

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