American Airlines notified employees on Wednesday that it will start sending out furlough warning notices to 13,000 of its most junior workers from Friday because the slow distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is delaying the recovery of the air travel industry. The Dallas Fort Worth-based carrier joins United Airlines which sent out furlough notices to 14,000 of its employees last week.
As many 4,245 flight attendants face being sent home without pay or healthcare benefits in April, as well as 1,850 pilots, 3145 fleet service workers and 1,420 maintenance staff. In addition, 1,205 passenger service workers, 100 dispatch staff and 40 pilot training instructors could be furloughed.
The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) notices have to be sent to potentially affected employees at least 60 days before furloughs are set to go ahead. American may not need to furlough every employee that receives a WARN notice if air travel demand unexpectedly recovers or if there’s an uptick in employees taking part in voluntary measures.
American is currently offering early out programs and an extended unpaid leave of absence of between 12 and 18 months that does provide medical coverage.
“We are nearly five weeks into 2021, and unfortunately, we find ourselves in a situation similar to much of 2020,” wrote American Airlines CEO Doug Parker on Wednesday. “As we closed out last year… we fully believed that we would be looking at a summer schedule where we’d fly all of our airplanes and need the strength of our full team,” Parker continued.
“Regrettably that is no longer the case. The vaccine is not being distributed as quickly as any of us believed, and new restrictions on international travel that require customers to have a negative COVID-19 test have dampened demand.”
Parker said that American was currently planning to operate just 45 per cent of its schedule in the first quarter compared to the same period in 2019.
Passenger airlines received $25 billion in payroll support funding in the first CARES Act which protected jobs through the end of September 2020. At least 32,000 airline workers were furloughed without pay or healthcare benefits for several months while Congress wrangled over an extension to the Coronavirus relief bill.
The extension was eventually passed on December 28, 2020, and passenger airlines received a further $15 billion to keep workers in paid employment – even if there wasn’t nearly enough work to go around because of the massive slump in passenger demand caused by the pandemic.
That extension is set to run out at the end of March.
Parker said that American Airlines is “fully behind” a call from two of America’s largest flight attendant unions for the payroll support program to be extended for a third time and at a cost of $15 billion to secure jobs through the end of September 2021 or until the money runs out.
On Wednesday, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) urged its members to contact their representatives in Congress to pass a payroll support extension. The union is hopeful that the program won’t lapse like it did last October, forcing thousands of workers onto furlough.
The union estimated that furloughs could affect all flight attendants who joined the airline after March 28, 2016.
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.