United to reduce staffing on many flights beginning in July
As with their counterparts around the world, U.S. airlines are in serious financial trouble following a severe drop in demand due to the coronavirus pandemic, despite essential support provided by the CARES Act.
United Airlines alone lost more than $2 billion in the first quarter of the year, even with passenger numbers remaining somewhat consistent until March. As a result, we're likely to see even more significant losses for the second quarter, including unprecedented year-over-year passenger drops for April, May and almost certainly June.
As a result, United is continuing to search for opportunities to trim expenses — now, beginning July 1, the airline will reduce the headcount on some of its flights. John Slater, United's head of inflight services, shared a memo with employees on Tuesday detailing the changes, which will impact both domestic and international flights.
Most flights with the U.S. will operate as they currently do, since they're already staffed at the minimum level required by the FAA. But those flights that are currently staffed above FAA minimums will be adjusted down to meet (but not exceed) federal mandates. In many cases, customers won't notice any change — on the Boeing 737-800, for example, United currently staffs each domestic leg with four flight attendants, and will continue to do so moving forward.
International flights will be staffed just over FAA minimums, with one extra flight attendant. United will add another flight attendant once the passenger load reaches 80% in economy, which matches the current policy. Many international passengers will likely be traveling on a Boeing 787-9 or 787-10 Dreamliner. Moving forward, both aircraft will be staffed with eight flight attendants on international routes, or nine if at least 80% of seats are occupied in economy.
Slater told employees the changes are part of "our need to be more aggressive than ever before in controlling our costs and the many steps we are taking across the company to do that."
"Staffing more closely to FAA minimums is one of those realities," he added.
Onboard responsibilities have already been adjusted for crew members on many flights. Buy onboard items are not currently available and service has been reduced in premium cabins, on both domestic and international trips, impacting each flight attendant's workload.
Additionally, while United hasn't matched airlines like Alaska and Delta in capping passenger capacity, the airline has implemented several measures to help reduce the number of passengers onboard, including notifying customers booked on flights where at least 70% of passengers have checked in, giving them a free option to change, and capping non-revenue passengers on all flights.