United Airlines Holdings Inc. announced today that it is preparing to eliminate 2,850 (about 21% of the total) pilot jobs in 2020, unless the federal government approves further U.S. government aid to help airline sector cover its payroll costs amid a collapse in travel demand.
Airlines, reeling from the devastating impact of the novel COVID-19 pandemic on air travel, have asked the U.S. government for another $25 billion to cover employee payroll through March.
The first tranche, which banned any job cuts until Oct. 1, expires at the end of September, but talks in Washington have stalled as Congress has struggled to reach agreement on a broader COVID-19 assistance package.
United’s planned job cuts would begin October 1, and would run between October 1 and November 30, the airline said in a memo to pilots Thursday. That would add to tens of thousands of likely job cuts across the U.S. airline industry unless Congress grants an extension of the prior Cares Act funding, which helped carriers pay employees for six months on the condition that they would avoid mass layoffs.
United Airlines’ job cuts are significantly higher than the 1,900 announced earlier this week by Delta Air Lines and 1,600 by American Airlines.
Facing a shrinking industry in the years ahead, airlines have generally tried to mitigate the number of forced job cuts by offering early retirement or voluntary departure deals, but some carriers’ packages have been more attractive than others.
“While other airlines have chosen to reduce manpower through voluntary means, it is tragic that United has limited those options for our pilots and instead has chosen to furlough more pilots than ever before in our history,” the union representing United’s 13,000 pilots said in a statement.
United said the numbers were based on current travel demand for the remainder of the year and its anticipated flying schedule, which it said “continues to be fluid with the resurgence of COVID-19 in regions across the U.S.”
Chicago-based United is more exposed than its peers to international travel, which is expected to take longer to rebound from the pandemic.
United, which has warned that 36,000 jobs are on the line across the company, has not yet provided final furlough numbers for other work groups.
American said on Tuesday it was cutting 19,000 jobs in addition to voluntary reductions that will see the company’s workforce shrink by about 30%.
United’s announcement comes on the final day of the Republican National Convention, where President Donald Trump will try to regain momentum against the backdrop of a pandemic that has killed over 180,000 Americans and produced a recession that has resulted in the loss of millions of jobs.