NEW YORK (PIX11) – Delta Air Lines pilots demanding better pay picketed at airports across the U.S. ahead of Independence Day weekend, including at John F. Kennedy International Airport. They were protesting drawn-out contract negotiations with Delta management.

Delta pilots last signed a new contract in 2016 and have been working under rules and pay rates that were negotiated more than six years ago. Contract negotiations were paused during the COVID pandemic and resumed in January 2022. A Delta spokesperson said the informational pickets—which included only off-duty pilots—would not disrupt operations for customers.

Hundreds of Delta pilots were scheduled to attend pickets at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP), Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) and Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC).

“It’s been two-and-a-half-years since our contract became amendable and three-and-a-half years since the Delta pilots last had a pay raise. Meanwhile, our quality of life has eroded due to management’s unwillingness to schedule the airline properly,” said Jason Ambrosi, chairman of the Delta Master Executive Council, a unit of the Air Line Pilots Association.

Delta pilots are seeking improvements in pay, retirement, and job protections. The union is also demanding changes to pilot schedules. “Delta pilots were front-line leaders during COVID and the recovery,” Ambrosi said. “We helped our airline recover by flying record amounts of overtime and spending more time away from our families than ever before to get our customers safely to their destinations. It’s time for management to recognize our contributions. If Delta can invest billions in foreign airlines and its subsidiaries, it must invest similarly in its pilots.”

A Delta spokesperson said the company’s goal is to provide pilots with an “industry-leading overall contract with the best compensation based on pay, retirement, work rules, and profit-sharing. We’re also committed to making sure the contract language supports our ability to run a world-class operation, maintain a strong balance sheet, and invest in our business for our customers and employees alike.”

The Air Line Pilots Association, the world’s largest pilot union which represents Delta’s 13,900 pilots, previously blamed the company’s management for recent flight delays and cancelations, saying Delta scheduled more flights than pilots were available to fly, the Associated Press reported.

In June, Delta union members passed a vote of “no confidence” in various Delta management teams for the scheduling issues that have impacted customers and pilots.

“We’re now going into the Independence Day Holiday weekend and are concerned that our customers’ plans will be disrupted once again,” Ambrosi said. “The perfect storm is occurring. Demand is back and pilots are flying record amounts of overtime but are still seeing our customers being stranded and their holiday plans ruined.”

Delta CEO Ed Bastian on Thursday sent an email to members of Delta’s frequent-flyer program to apologize to customers who have encountered delays and cancelations. “I know many of you may have experienced disruptions, sometimes significant, in your travels as we build our operation back from the depths of 2020 while accommodating a record level of demand,” Bastian said. “If you’ve encountered delays and cancellations recently, I apologize.”

Delta has flown more than 96% of its scheduled flights in June, with more than 80% arriving at their destination within 14 minutes of their scheduled arrival, according to Bastian. “I’m proud of the work of our team in the face of the many obstacles we’re up against as air travel re-emerges and even prouder of our determination to reduce cancellations and further minimize delays,” he said. “Things won’t change overnight, but we’re on a path towards a steady recovery.”