After some uncertainty earlier this week, the bankruptcy court approved Delta Air Lines’s flight plan for the next three years. The uptake: $280 million more in annual cuts for the airline’s pilots, once the highest paid in the industry. This follows the $1 billion in concessions – over five years – that CEO Gerald Grinstein coaxed out of the pilots’ union back in 2004. Assuming Delta can pull off a complete turnaround (and despite $2 billion in loses last year, at least some folks think it can) this will mark Grinstein’s third major corporate overhaul. Now 74, the conscientious chief has brokered union deals at Western Airlines and Burlington Northern railroad.
Fast Company saw something in Grinstein’s eye back in the fall of 2004, when he first charted his ambitious course for survival in a conference call with investors, employees and the media. At the time, he positioned the pilot’s union as the main stumbling block to the airline’s recovery (albeit diplomatically, Grinstein’s calling card). In the interest of meeting pilots in the middle, the CEO twice turned down his own quarterly salary (already lower than many of his underlings) and froze bonuses for execs. In a press release yesterday, Grinstein shared the recent milestone with his 55,000 employees: “Everyone at Delta at every level is contributing, personally and professionally, to Delta’s long-term success and their efforts… are delivering measurable results.” Indeed, the airline posted $27 million in loses in April – a major improvement over April 2005’s $163 million.