That’s how long the vast majority of the 76 graduating flight attendants from Delta’s 2022 A Class waited for the iconic wings that someone special would pin to their uniforms. For more than two years after receiving their conditional job offers, they obsessively checked their email for news from Delta – news that they could finally begin the job training they so eagerly awaited.
And Delta never gave up on them, keeping the company’s promise to bring them aboard for six weeks of rigorous training. It was a program made all the more difficult by the pandemic, their bonds tested by the challenges of social distancing and life behind a mask.
“We got this opportunity, then had it taken away, then got it again,” said Kenya Hernandez Diaz, who finally received her wings after first receiving her conditional job offer in January 2020. “It’s so hard to process everything we went through.”
Flight attendant Kenya Hernandez Diaz.
For her group, that six weeks of seemingly non-stop training was defined by frequent COVID tests and other precautions. Even simply sharing a meal together meant careful social distancing, so the group instead relied on a group chat and daily check-ins for moral support. “I feel like that’s what really kept me sane,” Hernandez Diaz said.
Since hiring and training ramped back up last year, Delta expects to have a total of 4,500 new flight attendants on the front line by the end of 2022. Another round of hiring will begin in the spring, and 40 more graduating classes are scheduled for this year -- part of the company’s commitment to unparalleled customer service and emerging stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These graduates are the face of Delta’s resilient spirit and the embodiment of perseverance through adversity,” said Jennie Ho, V.P. – Field Operations, In-Flight Service. “They represent the bright future of our airline and all the hard work being done to continue making Delta better than it’s ever been.”
For Hyrum Perkins, there was no question he’d remain by Delta’s side. The company’s culture made an indelible impression upon him years ago when a friend employed by Delta designated him as a travel companion, showing Perkins how a Delta career was “the ultimate passport.” He spent many years serving customers – as a lifeguard and in the software industry, loving the work but facing one problem: “I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life staring at three computer screens,” he said.
Flight attendant Hyrum Perkins, who planned to have someone special pin on his wings back home.
That led him to a career in aviation. After spending some time as a flight attendant for Delta partner SkyWest, Perkins applied to what he calls “the best airline in the world.”
“It has not just the best employee culture but the best passenger culture,” Perkins said. He received his conditional job offer on Dec. 10, 2019. But fears climbed as the pandemic unraveled.
“It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion, and it was all I could think about,” Perkins recalled. Then, just two weeks before training was to begin in April 2020, it happened: training was put on hold. The class would have to wait.
And even as they waited, they embraced the spirit of service so ingrained in Delta’s people. Hernandez Diaz moved to Spain to teach English, fulfilling a dream that may never have happened otherwise. Graduate Joseph Musso, who worked as a flight attendant in private aviation before joining Delta, volunteered seven days a week at a local grocery store, helping senior citizens safely get their shopping done during special hours set aside for high-risk age groups.
Flight attendant Joseph Musso.
Musso checked his email daily, hoping for a message from Delta – and hoping for good news. In November 2021, relief finally arrived. Training was set to begin. They spent weeks behind their masks. Until one day, after ensuring they tested negative – the masks came off for a training exercise.
“You don’t realize the human interaction you have with a mask versus without a mask,” Musso said. “It was just great to see how beautiful everyone was, and how genuinely happy everyone was to be there.”
If the class was happy to be in training, they were downright jubilant to finally have their wings. After the ceremony, the group danced, hugged and celebrated the future that awaited them.
Jennifer Martin, Managing Director – Field Operations, In-Flight Service, told the class that the best things in life are worth waiting for, as the saying goes – “you are the testimony to that.”
“Walk away today knowing you are special not because you are a flight attendant,” Martin told the graduates, “but because you are a Delta flight attendant.”