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INTRODUCTION: The Delta Pilot Disability and Survivorship Plan (D&S Plan) was established in 1972 to provide survivors' benefits for the survivors of deceased Delta pilots as well as disability benefits for disabled Delta pilots. During the Delta bankruptcy, the D&S Plan was amended to replace survivor income benefits with life insurance. However, eligible survivors of pilots who retired from Delta prior to January 1, 2008, still are entitled to monthly income survivor benefits under the D&S Plan.
THE MONTHLY INCOME SURVIVOR'S BENEFIT: The D&S Plan remains unique in that a monthly income benefit is payable to eligible survivors of pilots who retired from Delta prior to January 1, 2008 regardless of the pension benefit election made by the pilot at the time of his retirement. The D&S Plan monthly income survivor benefit is paid from the D&S Trust and is in addition to any joint life annuity benefit that the pilot may have elected under the retirement plan (now administered by the PBGC).
OVERVIEW OF WHO’S COVERED: We estimate that over 3,000 living pilots retired from Delta before January 1, 2008. Most of these retired pilots have spouses who may be eligible for monthly income survivor benefits from the D&S Plan following the death of the pilot. An eligible spouse must have been married to the pilot for at least 12 consecutive months immediately prior to the Event Date (date of retirement or disability) unless the pilot was in good health sometime between the date of the marriage and the Event Date. Additionally, for Event Dates after July 1, 1996, an eligible spouse must have been married continuously to the pilot from the Event Date until the date of the pilot's death. Our estimate is that over 900 surviving widows of Delta pilots currently are receiving monthly income survivor benefits from the D&S Plan.
HOW MUCH CAN A SURVIVING SPOUSE RECEIVE?: Although there are various formulas relating to the amount of the benefit, in general an eligible surviving spouse is entitled to a benefit that equals 30% of the pilot’s Final Average Earnings (FAE) if the pilot had at least 25 years of Delta service and retired at or after age 60. There is a reduction if the pilot had less than 25 years of Delta service or retired before age 60. Eligible survivors of disabled pilots (who were receiving D&S Plan benefits at the time of their death and who either were removed from the seniority list on or before June 1, 2006 or retired before January 1, 2008) receive 50% of the LTD benefit payable immediately prior to the pilot’s death. One-half of the initial benefit has a variable feature which can increase the benefit over time. For an explanation of the variable benefit, click here; for a table of Variable Benefit Unit values, click here. A detailed article on D&S Plan Survivor Benefits can be accessed by clicking the BLUE BUTTON labeled ARTICLE ON SURVIVOR BENEFITS at the top of this page.
DOES MARRIAGE RESULT IN THE TERMINATION OF A SURVIVING SPOUSE'S BENEFITS? : If the pilot died after retiring, the eligible surviving spouse is allowed to marry without losing benefits. Prior to September 1, 2001, D&S Plan contained a "marriage penalty" that was applicable to surviving spouses of pilots who died before retiring. That marriage penalty was removed under the year 2000 Pilot Working Agreement for deaths that occurred after September 1, 2001. However, the marriage penalty remained in tact for survivors of pilots who died before retiring and whose death was before September 1, 2001. As a result of DDPSA working through ALPA, Delta agreed to remove the marriage penalty for that group of survivors if the marriage occurred after July 1, 2012. The letter informing survivors of the policy change can be read by clicking on the following underlined link (Letter to certain surviving spouses).
UP TO DATE ESTIMATES: It is recommended that you contact Delta (1-800-MY-DELTA) to obtain a current estimate of your survivor’s benefit under the D&S Plan. Additionally, you can calculate an estimate of your survivor's benefit on the DDPSA Survivor Estimate Worksheet --Click on a GREEN BUTTON labeled SURVIVOR WORKSHEET at the top of this page.
FLIGHT PLAN FOR THE FINAL FLIGHT WEST: DDPSA has developed a document that you can fill out to make life much easier for your survivors. You can access the Flight Plan for the Final Flight West by clicking on a GREEN BUTTON at the top to this page. Adobe reader will be required in order for you to download the document to your computer.
HOW SECURE ARE D&S PLAN BENEFITS?: Many retired pilots are asking, “Will the survivor’s benefit payable from the D&S Plan be there when my wife needs it?” That’s a good question and a difficult one to answer. At this point in time, the D&S Trust has minimal assets. Delta appears to intend to make contributions to the D&S Trust on a pay-as-you-go basis similar to the method of funding healthcare plans. There does not appear to be an immediate threat to D&S Plan benefits. The long run outcome will be determined by a number of factors. If the following questions could has be answered, a better assessment could be made.
1. Will Delta be around to pay the D&S Plan benefits?
2. Will Delta management remain committed to Delta's repeatedly stated good intentions of maintaining the D&S Plan indefinitely?
3. Will Delta at some point in the future propose to amend the D&S Plan to modify retiree benefits? If so, will ALPA refuse to approve such proposed amendments?
4. Will ALPA remain as the collective bargaining agent for Delta pilots?
5. Will there be future changes to ERISA regulations that govern retiree benefits?
6. Will future court decisions set new legal precedents?
7. Will Delta seek bankruptcy protection in the future?
Reliance on conjecture is required to answer most of these questions. DDPSA will continue to monitor ongoing issues in an attempt to provide answers.
CONCLUSION: Retiree benefits under the D&S Plan appear to be relatively secure at the present time. However, retired pilots who suffered through the Delta bankruptcy may be skeptical about the long term outlook for their D&S Plan benefits. More details about the D&S Trust and the financial status of the D&S Plan are available on the page labeled D&S Trust.
Although the information on this page is believed to be accurate, no warranties are made or implied as to the accuracy of the information.