photo: Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune (Feb. 29, 2012)

photo: Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune (Feb. 29, 2012)

Delta Air Lines distributed profit-sharing checks to its employees Friday, one day after Moody's upgraded the company's debt level to the long-sought investment grade. 

Following Delta's record-setting profit of $4.5 billion in 2015, the profit-sharing payout is the largest in the company's history. These checks equal more than 21 percent of the each employee's individual annual base pay

Delta is the dominant carrier at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The airline's 7,500 employees based in the MSP market collectively received more than $120.9 million in profit-sharing payouts Friday. Based on those figures, the average payout is close to $16,000, though base income pay varies widely within the company. 

The company paid a total $1.5 billion to its 80,000 employees globally.

This is the sixth consecutive year that Delta has distributed profit sharing. Last year, its employees received 16 percent of their annual pay.

On Thursday, Moody's Investors Services improved Delta's credit rating to Baa3, the lowest investment grade. It's the first U.S.-based legacy carrier to have its rating restored to this level. Competitors American and United airlines still have junk-grade ratings.

In its announcement, Moody's said it does not believe other airlines have reduced their debt burden like Delta and that it is the only legacy carrier likely to sustain its current strong credit metrics "without the benefit of low fuel prices, especially in an environment likely to have fare, as well as labor, cost pressures."

Discount carrier Southwest Airlines and Alaska Air are also investment grade.

Delta has reduced its debt by more than $10 billion since 2009 when the carrier merged with former Eagan-based Northwest Airlines. In the rating agency's release, Moody's senior credit officer Jonathan Root cited disciplined debt reduction, targeted return on invested capital, use of free cash flow to repurchase shares and a contribution of $1 billion annually to its frozen pension plans as reasons for credit confidence in Delta.

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