Delta adding bilingual flight attendants

Delta Air Lines told employees last week that it plans to hire hundreds of new bilingual flight attendants, and already is processing tens of thousands of applications to fill the positions. How many attendants will be new and how many will be recalled from previous furloughs is murky. A Bloomberg report published in the Saturday Inquirer indicates new hires will be "several hundred" in addition to 425 recalled from furlough. Another article, published online by says Delta is adding 1,000 total. The company hasn't issued a news release that's posted on its Web site with other news releases to clarfiy.

The article includes some other background information, including some that begs for more explanation. Delta's 20,000 flight attendants are in the midst of a union-representation election; they haven't been unionized at the old Delta but were at the old Northwest before the airlines merged. Those are facts. Here's what needs expansion: When Delta says its flight attendants make an average of $41,000 a year after 12 years for working about 75 hours a month, that refers to "hard hours," or actual airplane flight time. It doesn't count the hours flight attendants spend in airports before, between and after flights, or travel to reach a hotel on out-of-town trips.

One other factoid in the story that shouldn't surprise anyone these days: The starting pay for flight attendants in training is $1,746 a month, or just under $21,000 a year. That's higher than it is at many carriers. Like many workers in many industries these days, those in the airline industry are making about the same or less than they did after adjusting for inflation than they did a decade ago. On the plus side, airline jobs usually come with benefits, and there is the perk of being able to fly for free or very little. But in many cases airline employees are working harder than they used to; the total number of employees in the industry is 22 percent less today than it was 10 years ago, yet more people are flying, according to DOT's Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

So the next time you fly, think about what it takes to do the tough safety-and-service job of being a flight attendant, and what fair compensation should be for someone capable of saving your life during an emergency. Personally, I think there should be a tip jar hanging from a peg in the galley of every airline cabin. I would put paper money in it every time.