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United Airlines Could Furlough a Third of its Pilots as Hopes of Quick Recovery Fade

United Airlines Could Furlough a Third of its Pilots as Hopes of Quick Recovery Fade

United Airlines has warned its pilots that it may have to furlough significantly more of them than originally anticipated after hopes of a relatively quick recovery in travel demand continue to fade away. Earlier this month, United said it might need to furlough as many as 2,250 pilots but has now increased that number to 3,900 – roughly a third of the Houston-based airline’s entire pilot workforce.

“We have previously announced that unless we see a change in the current situation, we would furlough 2,250 pilots between October 1 and the end of 2020,” an internal memo informed pilots of Thursday.

“These numbers were based on the more optimistic outlook that we were seeing prior to the 4th of July holiday and only represented the number of pilots that could potentially be furloughed in 2020,” the memo continues.

“The total number of pilots that we have developed furlough plans for is about 3,900, or roughly on third of our pilots. That means that we had planned to furlough an additional 1,650 pilots in 2021. Because COVID-19 cases continue, and demand improvement remains very slow, we may need to furlough more pilots in 2020, and in 2021, than originally planned.”

After passenger numbers started to slowly recover from the lows they suffered in April, demand has since stalled and even started to fall as COVID-19 cases surge in some southern and western states. Passenger numbers are currently sitting at between 20 – 25 per cent of pre-COVID levels and most U.S. airlines don’t expect to see any significant improvement for several months at least.

In total, United warned over 36,000 staffers that they faced being furloughed after a federal payroll support program finishes on October 1. The one hope for many employees is that Congress passes an extension to the multi-billion-dollar CARES Act with payroll support built-in.

Last week, United’s chief executive, Scott Kirby said he was hopeful that Congress would come to the rescue in what has been a union-driven effort to put pressure on lawmakers.

In fact, it appears Kirby is so optimistic that taxpayer-funded payroll support might be extended through March 2021 that United will give staffers more time to decide whether they want to sign up to a voluntary leave of absence or early-out. The deadline has been extended to August 10, while Congress is expected to announce the details of CARES Act 2.0 on August 7, just before the summer recess.

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