United Airlines Confirms Over 16,000 Furloughs For Oct. 1

United Airlines flight attendant
Credit: United Airlines / Twitter

United Airlines will furlough more than 16,000 workers on Oct. 1, less than half its previous estimate of 36,000, as the carrier has seen a greater-than-expected participation in voluntary separation and time-off programs.

In a companywide message sent to employees on Sept. 2, viewed by Aviation Daily, Chicago-based United said that despite solid participation in the voluntary schemes, “efforts so far to cut costs, raise debt and introduce voluntary options have not been enough to avoid involuntary furloughs entirely.”

As such, United will let go 16,370 employees on Oct. 1, following the expiration of the U.S. federal government’s CARES Act Payroll Support Program (PSP), which funded U.S. carriers’ labor costs through the 2020 second and third quarters. 

Broken down by workgroup, United’s flight attendants and pilots will see the most cuts, with 6,920 and 2,850 job losses, respectively. Other workgroups facing reductions include airport operations (2,260), technical operations (2,010), management and administrative (1,400), contact centers (430), catering operations (320) and network operations center (180).

“The pandemic has drawn us in deeper and lasted longer than almost any expert predicted, and in an environment where travel demand is so depressed, United cannot continue with staffing levels that significantly exceed the schedule we fly,” the employee memo reads. “Sadly, we don’t expect demand to return to anything resembling normal until there is a widely available treatment or vaccine.”

News of the pending cuts brings expected industrywide furloughs to around 40,000, substantially less than the roughly 75,000 employees who received formal furlough warnings this summer. American Airlines recently said around 17,500 employees will be let go when the PSP funding lapses, including 1,600 pilots and 8,100 flight attendants, while Delta Air Lines will shed nearly 2,000 pilots. Southwest Airlines, in contrast, has committed to avoid involuntary layoffs completely through year-end.

Airlines and their workers are holding out hope that the U.S. Congress will extend the PSP for an additional six months, but the prospects of a renewal remain uncertain because of a breakdown in negotiations toward another stimulus bill. “To be clear, an extension would be the one thing that would prevent involuntary furloughs on Oct. 1, and hopefully delay any potential impact on employees until early 2021,” United said. 

Still, while the proposal to renew the PSP remains bogged down by congressional gridlock, recent remarks from the Trump administration have restored some optimism that more aid could be coming. Responding to a question from reporters on Sept. 1, President Donald Trump reiterated his support for extending the payroll aid. “We’ll be helping the airlines—you have to help the airlines,” Trump said. “It’s a tough business, always is. Airlines are a tough business in good times—and we are about ready to get back to good times.”

Ben Goldstein

Based in Boston, Ben covers advanced air mobility and is managing editor of Aviation Week Network’s AAM Report.