Skip to content

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

July 08, 2020
6 min read
United Airlines may furlough up to 36,000 staff as coronavirus forces drastic cuts
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.

Oct. 1 is going to be a tough day of reckoning for many airline employees.

United Airlines is notifying around 45% of its U.S. workforce they may be furloughed or laid off on that date, in what is expected to be only one of many large scale prunings of U.S. airline workforces due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Some 36,000 frontline employees at the Chicago-based carrier will receive Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act notices this month, United told staff in a memo on Wednesday viewed by TPG. Furloughs or layoffs would occur on or after Oct. 1, the day after employment protections under the federal government's coronavirus aid package known as the CARES Act expire.

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

United's notices are just the beginning of what many expect to be a massive cull of airline workforces this fall. Carriers must notify staff at least 60 days before a possible forced departure under federal guidelines with more WARN Act notices expected by Aug. 1.

Cowen analyst Helane Becker estimates that more than 120,000 industry employees could lose their job as a result of the COVID-19 slowdown in air travel, effectively returning the industry to 2015 levels.

Delta Air Lines has already sent notices to 2,558 pilots, according to its pilots union. And American Airlines has warned flight attendants that it may need to let go of 7,000 to 8,000 cabin crewmembers come October.

Related: United Airlines scales back August schedule on resurgent coronavirus, travel restrictions

"Involuntary furloughs, which we worked so hard to avoid, are the last step to protect the future of the company," a United executive told media on Wednesday. The airline has cut expenses, halting all non-essential investments and parking hundreds of jets, but it is still losing around $40 million a day leaving it with workforce cuts as a last option.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

The carrier is still pushing staff to take one of several voluntary options, including early outs and reduced hours, to reduce the number of forced departures. However, to date only around 3,700 of its frontline employees and 1,300 management staff have taken early out packages.

The need for significant further staff cuts come as the recovery in air travel appears to have stalled. On July 7, United notified investors that it was rolling back plans to fly around 40% of what it flew last year in August and will instead fly about 35%. This followed a dramatic rise in new COVID-19 cases in many states across the South and West, as well as new travel restrictions in both Europe and the New York City tri-state region.

Related: State-by-state guide to coronavirus reopening

"I'm expecting the post-summer capacity cutbacks will be historic," aviation analyst and former airline executive Robert Mann told TPG. He pointed to United's own investor notification as evidence of this.

Both Delta and United have indicated that they may pause resuming flights through the end of the year after August. This could see both airlines flying less than half of what they flew last fall.

“With COVID and other airlines’ expansion, I’m pretty bearish on the fall,” Sun Country Airlines CEO Jude Bricker told TPG as part of the CEO chat series this week. “September is going to be rough.”

Related: Sun Country Airlines fears a ‘rough’ September as travel uptick plateaus

Most of United's WARN notices will go to flight attendants, with 15,100 cabin crews due to receive them. Another nearly 11,100 notices will go to airport customer service and gate agents, about 5,500 to maintenance staff, 2,25o to pilots, around 1,000 to call center employees, 800 to catering staff and 222 to employees in network operations.

"The United Airlines projected furlough numbers are a gut punch, but they are also the most honest assessment we've seen on the state of the industry," said Association of Flight Attendants-CWA president Sara Nelson in a statement. The union, which represents flight attendants at United, along with others is pushing for an extension of the CARES Act employment protections.

The Allied Pilots Association, which represents pilots at American, is pushing a competing proposal for the federal government to buy seats on flights in order to allow for social distancing and aid airlines.

United executives do not expect the U.S. Congress to extend CARES Act protections beyond Oct. 1 citing the November elections.

Related: American Airlines pilots union wants the government to buy middle seats

Featured image by Getty Images

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 10X points
10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

80,000 bonus points
Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

Annual Fee

$550

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more
Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

    80,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $550
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more