Originally created 02/14/01

Masters puts pressure on Delta



Delta Air Lines is working on a contingency plan to make sure, in the case of a pilots' strike, travelers headed to the Masters Tournament in April actually arrive.

Details of the backup plan are vague, and customers probably won't be happy.

Even with the potential of an Air Line Pilots Association walkout April 1, days before the Masters, a Delta representative says passengers will get to their destinations one way or another. She said the most likely outcome will be a settlement of the work contract issues. Delta already has made extensive concessions.

But just in case, "We have looked at a contingency plan. We are not prepared to share the details of it at this time," Delta spokeswoman Peggy Estes said Tuesday.

The Masters is scheduled for April 5-8. An estimated additional 15,000 people fly commercially into Augusta Regional Airport at Bush Field during Masters Week. Although Delta was unable to release specific numbers of passengers that could be affected, the majority of fans flying in travel Delta.

David Dorminey, the director of marketing for Bush Field, said if a strike occurs, "We don't foresee stranded passengers." He said "inconvenienced" is probably a better word.

Certain measures are typical protocol in the industry when an airline is pressed to meet its commitments, Mr. Dorminey said. Passengers might be shifted to different flights or given vouchers to fly competing airlines.

Atlantic Southeast Airlines and Comair, both wholly owned by Delta, along with U.S. Airways serve Bush Field. Other airlines could transport displaced passengers to hubs such as Atlanta, where passengers could board available flights to Augusta. Delta's "mainline" flights - its normal-fare fleet - are the planes that would be affected.

Delta recently announced its intent to provide 16 additional flights, including wide-bodied jet service, to Augusta for this year's Masters. The change would amount to 5,000 additional seats.

Capt. Charles S. Giambusso, the chairman of the Delta unit of the pilots association, said those seats will go unfilled if demands over compensation, job security protections and retirement issues are not met satisfactorily.

Ninety-seven percent of union members voting Monday agreed to authorize a strike. The majority of Delta's pilots are association members.

"The few that are not are flying on reserve are in training," association spokeswoman Jane Langley said.

Negotiations through the National Mediation Board are continuing in an undisclosed location in Atlanta. Delta management already has made substantial concessions, including offering to make mainline pilots the highest paid in the airline industry. Pilots for Delta's lower-fare Express service would be paid more than their Southwest Airlines counterparts under the offer.

The pilots association argues that Delta Express pilots essentially do the same job as mainline Delta pilots and deserve to be compensated equally.

Delta's 9,800 pilots began their contract negotiations in September 1999, although their agreements didn't become amendable until May 2.

An April 1 strike is contingent on the National Mediation Board offering an arbitrator's services by Feb. 28. If an arbitrator-devised agreement falls through, the union could strike.

Reach Eric Williamson at (706) 828-3904.