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As Many as 8,000 American Airlines Flight Attendants to be Axed from October 1

As Many as 8,000 American Airlines Flight Attendants to be Axed from October 1

American Airlines may axe nearly a third of its flight attendant workforce in response to what is expected to be a prolonged slump in travel demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Jill Surdek, the airline’s head of inflight service warned staffers in a leaked internal memo that American was currently looking at an overage of between 7,000 to 8,000 flight attendants which would force the airline to start implementing involuntary furloughs.

The Dallas Fort Worth-based airline cannot involuntary furlough or lay-off any of its employees until October 1 as a condition of accepting a $5.8 billion CARES Act bailout. As of July 2019, American reported having a total of 27,600 flight attendants, although that number has fallen slightly in recent months through voluntary early-out’s.

Photo Credit: Pittsburgh International Airport

Doug Parker, American’s chief executive warned last week the airline would have around 20 – 30 per cent too many pilots and flight attendants come the Fall. By July 2021, the overage of inflight crew would still be between 10 – 20 per cent. At the time, Parker suggested redundancies would be based on the July 2021 estimate, although that no longer looks to be the case.

“It’s no secret that COVID-19 has drastically reduced the demand for air travel,” Surdek told flight attendants in a memo sent on Wednesday afternoon. “Earlier today, Network Planning shared news about our fall and summer 2021 flying, which will still be well below where we have been historically, particulary with international flying,” the memo continued.

Surdek told staffers that they would be expected to work more efficiently with changes coming to flight attendant complements, how schedules are built and what bases will survive a cost-cutting review.

As it stands, crew bases in St Louis and Raleigh/Durham have already been earmarked for closure and bases in Latin America will also be “proportionally smaller”.

Decisions have also already been made on crew complements with American deciding to staff all international widebody and transcontinental flights with the FAA minimum +1. “These new staffing models will make us more cost-efficient and are in line with recent changes implemented by one of our largest competitors (Delta),” Surdek explained.

The changes will come into effect as early as October, although the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) says it will file a grievance to fight that decision.

“While it may be scary to see an overage this large, please know we’re doing everything possible to mitigate or potentially eliminate the need for involuntary reductions – while keeping our costs manageable,” Surdek continued.

“The reality is that this pandemic has changed our business for years to come. Things like less international flying, lower crew complements and fewer crew bases are part of our new reality.”

The extent of involuntary furloughs will depend, Surdek said, on the “appetite” for people taking up voluntary options like extended leaves of absence and more early-outs.

APFA has called on the Trump Administration to extend CARES Act support for airlines in order to stave off thousands of job losses but so far American and other U.S. airlines have shown little interest in a second bailout.

Other airlines have already indicated that mass-redundancies may follow on October 1 and flight attendants at United Airlines have been told months ago to get their finances in order in preparation for the fall.