Flight attendants will make up majority of United’s 16,000 employee furloughs

Sep 2, 2020

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Update 9/2/20: The text below has been updated to clarify that only employees opting for voluntary leave with receive healthcare benefits during their entire time-off period. Most employees facing an involuntary furlough will receive benefits at their current rates for the first three months.


From the early days of the pandemic, airline employees have had a key date marked on their calendars. Beginning Oct. 1, 2020, less than one month from today, airlines that accepted funding as part of the U.S. government’s CARES Act will be permitted to trim their ranks to match demand, likely leading to tens of thousands of involuntary furloughs.

While some airlines may be able to avoid involuntary reductions, that won’t be the case across the board. Last week, American Airlines announced plans to furlough 19,000 employees, and Wednesday morning, United Airlines detailed its own employee reduction plans.

Related: American Airlines to lay off 19,000 workers when federal aid ends

Back in July, United suggested it may need to furlough as many as 36,000 employees. Through a variety of programs, including early retirements, voluntary leave and even a rare insourcing of 150 jobs in Denver (DEN), the carrier has managed to reduce its total number of involuntary furloughs to 16,370 employees.

Effective Oct. 1, up to 16,370 United employees will no longer receive a paycheck. They will be eligible for company-provided healthcare during their furlough period, however, and could be recalled at any time, with 14-day notice, to return to their jobs.

Many United employee groups will be impacted, from flight attendants to airport employees. Screenshot courtesy of United.
Many United employee groups will be impacted, from flight attendants to airport employees. Screenshot courtesy of United.

As of today, United expects to furlough 6,920 flight attendants, 2,850 pilots, 2,260 airport operations employees, 2,010 maintenance employees, 1,400 management and administrative employees, 430 contact center workers, 320 catering employees and 180 Network Operations Center workers.

In addition to the 16,370 involuntary furloughs, thousands of flight attendants, airport operations, management and administration employees have already volunteered to take temporary leave, making the airline’s total headcount far smaller than it was before the pandemic.

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All employees on voluntary leave will continue to receive health benefits. In addition, airport, contact center and maintenance workers who volunteered for time off will receive 25% pay during their 12-month leave.

As for flight attendants, while those employees who volunteered for an 8- or 13-month leave won’t have a regular schedule, they will be eligible to work individual trips, as they become available. United is still negotiating with its pilots — the airline may be able to avoid a number of involuntary furloughs if an agreement is reached.

Featured photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

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