United Airlines confirmed on Friday that it doesn’t have any plans to furlough flight attendants when the current round of funding from a federal payroll support program ends in September. Like other U.S. airlines, the Chicago-based carrier has seen passenger numbers bounce back in the last few months largely from domestic demand driven by new leisure travelers.
The situation was very different just a few short months ago when the payroll support program was coming up for renewal. At the time, United sent federal WARN notices to 14,000 employees telling them they were at risk of being furloughed if the program wasn’t extended.
A slew of U.S. airlines, including United, received a share of $25 billion in payroll support when the first CARES Act was passed at the height of the pandemic last year but when the funding dried up in September around 32,000 airline workers across the industry were furloughed while Congress wrangled over an extension.
A $15 billion extension was eventually passed in late December and a further extension pushed the threat of furloughs to September 2021. United’s chief executive, Scott Kirby previously signalled that furloughs would immediately follow the end of the payroll support program.
“This announcement makes it clear: the Payroll Support Program worked,” commented the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) which represents United’s crew members.
“We proposed the PSP to keep workers whole AND to keep our industry solvent and ready to fly. Simply put, PSP delivered,” the union’s International Office said. “This program should serve as a model for the future. Now that we’re on our way out of the worst crisis in aviation history, we look forward to building a just recovery that respects the contributions of all the workers who keep us flying high.”
AFA proposed the payroll support program to ensure flight attendants and other aviation workers were ready to return to work at a moments notice when the recovery took off. Critics were dubious as to whether the program delivered value for money but it did achieve what advocates had claimed it would.
As a result, airlines have been able to rapidly scale up their operations as travelers return to the skies en masse. On Thursday, the Transporation Security Administration (TSA) screened more than 1.97 million passengers at airport checkpoints across the United States – the third time in the last two weeks that passenger numbers have nearly topped two million.
The latest announcement from United isn’t all good news, unfortunately. The airline also confirmed that its international crew bases in Frankfurt, Hong Kong and Tokyo will close in September with the potential loss of hundreds of jobs.
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 used by some of the biggest names in journalism.