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United To Furlough 2,850 Pilots — Will Congress Extend Federal Support to Help Airlines?

United Airlines would have to furlough 2,850 pilots this fall if the government did not allocate additional funding for the airlines to cover labor costs.

In a message to pilots on Thursday, Bryan Quigley, United’s senior vice president of flight operations, said that the company remains positive that Congress will approve an extension to the Payroll Support Program. However, United should be also prepared for a different outcome, Quigley wrote.

US airlines already received billions in financial assistance through government coronavirus relief packages this spring, and in return, agreed to avoid layoffs before Oct. 1. At the same time, most airlines, including United, encouraged employees to consider early retirement or volunteer for leaves of absence. Some said they were not able to prevent forced layoffs.

As of Oct. 1, United will furlough indefinitely 1,750 out of 13,000 pilots, the company said. According to the Airline Pilots Association, there will be an opportunity for some of them to come back once the business allows.

At the end of October, another batch of 572 pilots will lose their jobs and 531 more will be furloughed as of Nov. 30. Some 450 pilots already opted for early retirement. They will receive reduced pay for a limited time until they retire, the union said.

The trade union criticized United for not choosing to reduce staff through voluntary layoffs. Instead, it opted to furlough more pilots than ever in its history, it noted. Chicago-based United is much more dependent on international travel than its domestic competitors, and it is set to take longer to recover from the crisis.

US air travel industry recorded a 70% drop from where it was last year, the Transport Security Administration said. Big airlines signaled last week they would have to furlough more than 80,000 pilots, flight attendants, and other airline staff once the USD 25 billion relief package expires at the end of September.

American Airlines said it would have 40,000 fewer workers this fall. Nearly 19,000 of them were furloughed. Some 23,500 team members took buyouts, retired early, or volunteered for a leave of absence. However, it was not enough, and the company would still need extended federal aid.

Delta Airlines announced it would furlough 1,941 pilots in October unless it can reach an agreement with the trade unions to reduce pay. Last month, Southwest Airlines said it would manage to avoid furloughs or layoffs by the end of the year after 16,900 employees took voluntary time off or left the company.

What do you think? Shall the Congress prolong the Payroll Support Program to assist airlines with labor costs?