The airline's earnings last year were up 44 percent compared with a year earlier.
FILE - In tis Aug. 4, 2011 file photo, Delta Airlines luggage carts sit idle at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, in Atlanta. Higher fares helped Delta Air Lines Inc. produce a bigger third-quarter profit Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011, even though fuel prices jumped sharply and passenger traffic was flat.
Citing a strong financial performance in 2011, Delta Air Lines will give $264 million in profit sharing to its 78,000 employees, including about 6,000 at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
The Twin Cities' largest carrier will distribute the checks on Valentine's Day. Payments will be worth 4.85 percent of employees' wages last year, meaning a worker earning $50,000 would get a check for about $2,400.
"We have the best people in the business," said Bill Lentsch, senior vice president of Minnesota operations, in an interview Friday. "They deserve every penny of profit sharing that they get. It's a result of their hard work."
The airline said the payments are the result of a major jump in its profit last year. Delta reported net income of $854 million in 2011, up 44 percent compared with 2010.
Delta has also disbursed an additional $60 million in financial rewards to all employees who helped it meet its 2011 operational targets. Workers hit 26 of the 36 goals, which include getting planes out on time, baggage handling and overall customer satisfaction.
MSP improved its on-time performance by about 35 percent last year, Lentsch said. Technological and procedural changes have helped Delta bolster its results.
For example, employees used to hand-write travelers' destinations on baggage tags that didn't fit in the cabin, Lentsch said. Now workers use handheld devices to scan boarding passes to print out tags, which cuts the time by 50 percent.
In addition, planes that stay overnight at the airport are now inspected at least one hour prior to departure to ensure they arrive on schedule. Previously, those planes may have been inspected less than 60 minutes before takeoff, Lentsch said.
Other U.S. carriers have also given profit sharing to workers, including United Continental Holdings, which paid $265 million, and US Airways, which disbursed $12 million.
Mike Boyd, president of Colorado-based aviation consulting and research firm Boyd Group International Inc., said such financial incentives encourage employees to "move faster and care more."
"It shows that the company cares about their employees," Boyd said.
Wendy Lee • 612-673-1712