- The Washington Times - Friday, April 14, 2006

ATLANTA (AP) — Holiday travelers filing into the world’s busiest airport yesterday greeted news of a tentative labor agreement between Delta Air Lines and its pilots with joy and relief.

“It’s a good Easter present for everybody if they did,” said Sal Muccillo, of Hampton, Ga., who was waiting for his son to arrive at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport for a holiday visit.

Mr. Muccillo’s wife, Pat, said their son flies to visit them on Delta “all the time.” She said the family never considered not booking yesterday’s flight with Delta, but had begun making alternate plans in case a strike canceled his flight back to Knoxville, Tenn. Delta operates more than 80 percent of the gates at the Atlanta airport.

“The return could have been a problem, but we just stayed hopeful that it would be settled,” she said. “We’re obviously glad its not going to be disrupted.”

Delta Air Lines Inc. and negotiators for its pilots union reached a tentative agreement yesterday on long-term pay and benefit cuts.

The union had threatened to strike if Delta, which has been operating under bankruptcy protection since September, threw out its current contract. Delta, the nation’s third-largest air carrier after American and United, said in court papers that a pilot strike would put it out of business.

Uncertainty surrounding a strike had caused some passengers to scramble for other travel arrangements for a busy holiday weekend and hurt bookings for Delta. A statement from the company yesterday said customers can book future flights with confidence.

“I just had my fingers crossed,” said Rose Shefrin of Baltimore, as she waited for other family members in the airport after her Delta flight arrived. “I had hoped that they would work it out, and I’m so happy that they did.”

She said the airline had helped her and her family when an emergency forced them to change travel plans at the last minute. Other passengers, however, said they have soured on the Atlanta carrier.

Bill Linehan, of Newtown, Conn., said he has been a frequent Delta flier for years, but plans to switch airlines after receiving poor service on his family’s flight yesterday for a vacation to the Virgin Islands.

During a layover in Atlanta, he said a Delta employee told him the family couldn’t be booked on a connecting flight with another airline because the company can’t afford it.

“When the guy says, ‘I can’t help you because of our financial condition,’ there’s a huge problem,” said Mr. Linehan, who said he has seen a drop-off in customer service since Delta filed for bankruptcy. “I’ve been holding out; I’ve been loyal to Delta, but it’s time for a change.”

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