United Airlines will formally notify employees in the coming days that as many as 36,000 of them could be furloughed come October 1 when a federal pay support programme finishes. The dire warning is the starkest threat yet posed to airline employees by the COVID-19 pandemic. As many as 5,000 flight attendants, 11,000 customer service agents and 5,550 maintenance employees will all potentially be made redundant. Around 2,250 pilots may also be furloughed.
The news came on the same day that United told staffers that not enough had yet opted for voluntary measures like early retirement or leaves of absence that may help to significantly reduce the number of employees who have to be involuntarily furloughed. The numbers, however, are the maximum number that could be affected and will likely be revised down.
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA), the union that represents United’s flight attendants described the projected furlough numbers as a “gut punch” but also as the “most honest assessment we’ve seen on the state of the industry.”
“COVID-19 is an unprecedented threat to aviation workers and the entire U.S. aviation industry,” Nelson commented.
“This crisis dwarfs all others in aviation history and there’s no end in sight. Demand was just barely climbing back to 20 per cent of last year and even those minimal gains evaporated over the last week due to surging COVID-19 cases across the country.”
Passenger figures leading up to July 4 peaked at around 26 per cent of last year’s numbers, driven largely by domestic leisure travelers but industry insiders claim cancellations are once again starting to soar and new bookings are waning because of a spike in Coronavirus cases across the United States.
The Air Line Pilots Association told its members that it continued to work with United to secure a voluntary early-out package for pilots in an attempt to reduce the need for furloughs.
Earlier this month, American Airlines warned its flight attendants that as many as 8,000 could be furloughed from October 1. The airline has an overage of around 20,000 employees in total.
Aviation unions have urged Congress to extend a multi-billion dollar payroll support program for a further six months in order to stave off the threat of mass redundancies but have so far failed to win much support or even the backing of the airlines.
Flight attendants at United and American joined forces earlier this week, saying they would refuse to accept concessions like pay cuts and other measures as a result of the Corona crisis.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.