United makes new move to limit attendant furloughs in case Congress fails to act

Aug 17, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

United Airlines hopes to limit the number of flight attendants it has to furlough this fall, rolling out new voluntary measures amid uncertainty over the the potential for additional federal coronavirus pandemic aid.

The Chicago-based carrier is offering cabin crew members “no-activity lines” to mitigate furloughs, United senior vice president of inflight services John Slater said in a Saturday (Aug. 15) letter to staff viewed by TPG. Crew members that participate in the program would stay active in the airline’s ranks but forgo flying on a month-for-month basis to cut costs during the worst crisis airlines have ever faced.

United’s hope is to minimize the number of flight attendants who are furloughed if Congress fails to extend the payroll support program through March 2021. The carrier has warned 15,100 cabin crew members — the most of any of its employee groups — of possible furloughs on Oct 1.

Sign up for the free daily TPG newsletter for more airline news!

“By introducing this option, we remain more responsive and prepared for when customers feel comfortable returning to the skies, while also providing a large number of flight attendants with the ability to remain active, with active employee benefits,” said Slater.

Delta Air Lines has offered its flight attendants similar voluntary measures to address what it views as overstaffing this winter.

The new mitigation measures follow a number of other voluntary options at Delta, United and other airlines. Earlier offers included extended unpaid leave and voluntary departure packages.

Related: United Airlines may furlough up to 36,000 staff as coronavirus forces drastic cuts

U.S. airlines are preparing for a tough fall and winter. Leisure travelers — who have so far driven the recovery in air travel — historically fly less after Labor Day, when they typically are replaced by business travelers. However, with most U.S. offices shuttered and companies forgoing travel amid fears of COVID-19, few expect any return in corporate travel until 2021 at the earliest.

United CEO Scott Kirby has warned that the airline anticipates flyer numbers to stall at around half of 2019 levels until there is a vaccine. And he does not expect a widely available vaccine until the end of 2021.

The new voluntary measures come as airlines and labor unions lobby Congress for a $25 billion extension of the payroll aid they received in March. The first round is set to expire on Sept. 30, potentially resulting in what Cowen analyst Helane Becker has called “terrible Thursday” on Oct. 1, which when tens-of-thousands of employees could be furloughed without an extension.

“Everyone is on pins and needles,” Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) director of employee assistance programs Heather Healy told CNBC on Aug. 16.

Related: Should Congress dole out more money for airline employees?

Many agree that extending the program would only delay airlines’ need to shrink their workforces in light of far fewer air travelers. However, there remains a strong argument for maintaining employment — and paychecks — to lessen the impact of the economic recession brought on by the pandemic.

Slater told flight attendants that United is “completely aligned” with the AFA, which represents cabin crew at the airline, as well as the other unions pushing for the extension of the payroll support. He did not say how many furloughs could be avoided by flight attendants taking no-activity lines.

Other airlines are also ratcheting up pressure on Congress to extend the payroll program. American Airlines is considering ending service to as many as 30 smaller cities across the U.S. after air service protections under the program expire on Sept. 30.

Congress recessed on Aug. 13 without an agreement on a new coronavirus aid package. It is not scheduled to return until after Labor Day.

Related: Global air travel unlikely to recover until 2024 as COVID remains ‘issue’ in US, elsewhere

Featured image by Robert Alexander/Getty Images.

 

 

 

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,650

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.