A Northwest Airlines plane
A Northwest Airlines plane - 
Listen To The Story

KAI RYSSDAL: Looks like U.S. airlines are getting out of bankruptcy protection just in time for the summer travel season. Delta's plan to leave Chapter 11 was approved yesterday. Today, flight attendants at Northwest Airlines tentatively agreed to pay cuts that should clear the way for the troubled airline to emerge from bankruptcy by June. Marketplace's Alisa Roth has more from New York.

ALISA ROTH: Under the latest agreement, Northwest flight attendants would take a big pay cut, saving the company $195 million a year. In exchange, the flight attendants could make a claim as creditors in the company's bankruptcy deal and get a $182 million share of the new company.

Will Wilcox works with the flight attendants' union in Minneapolis. He has misgivings.

WILL WILCOX: It's never a good day when 8,000 Americans are looking at a concessionary agreement.

He says the new agreement is better than earlier ones — in some ways. The equity deal would work out to somewhere between $15- and $18,000 per member.

WILCOX: Of course, this 182 million equity claim really represents only a portion of what we're giving up in concessions.

Northwest pilots and ground workers already accepted pay cuts in exchange for equity in the new company.

Last year, flight attendants voted down two tentative agreements. This time they need to act fast, though. Creditors — which will now include the flight attendants — only have until May 7 to make claims in the company's bankruptcy reorganization.

Airline consultant Mark Kiefer says offering the unions equity in the new company is a clever strategy.

MARK KIEFER: To the extent that the company succeeds and prospers after it emerges from bankruptcy, the employees will share in that.

The agreement still has to be OK'd by the union's rank and file. If the latest agreement doesn't pass, the union could try to get approval to strike, but their earlier requests to walk have been denied.

Northwest plans to emerge from bankruptcy in June.

In New York, I'm Alisa Roth for Marketplace.