United Airlines Delays Pilot Furloughs While Talks Continue

Credit: United Airlines / Twitter

United Airlines will delay the planned furlough date of nearly 3,000 pilots until Oct. 31, in a bid to buy more time for negotiators to hammer out an agreement to keep the entire workgroup in place until summer 2021. 

Chicago-based United previously warned that 2,850 pilots will be let go beginning Oct. 1, following expiration of the U.S. government’s CARES Act Payroll Support Program (PSP), which funded most airline labor costs between April and October. 

The decision to put off furloughs for another month buys additional time for United pilots, represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), to ratify a tentative agreement that would avoid involuntary furloughs altogether through June 2021. The tentative deal previously received unanimous backing from the United ALPA Master Executive Council (MEC) on Sept. 15.

“Our pilots are voting right now on a tentative agreement that, if approved, would avoid all pilot furloughs for at least nine months,” a United spokesman said in a statement. “We believe that while we continue to push for our leaders in Washington to take action to save jobs, we must also do what we can to control our own destiny by pursuing an agreement that definitively avoids pilot furloughs into 2021 and positions us to bounce back more quickly than our competitors when demand returns.”  

In addition to preventing furloughs for nine months, the tentative deal under consideration by United pilots would make available a second round of early-separation options for all pilots 50 years of age or older with at least 10 years of experience; add new restrictions on United Express flying; and secure triggers for eventual pay raises and “additional permanent contract modifications,” according to a summary provided by ALPA. 

“This tentative agreement underscores our commitment to all 13,000 United pilots and represents the importance of creative solutions needed to mitigate massive layoffs for our pilots,” United MEC chairman Todd Insler said. 

The situation underway at United mirrors that at Delta Air Lines, which announced earlier this week it will put off nearly 2,000 pilot furloughs until Nov. 1, while negotiations continue over a proposal that would take involuntary furloughs off the table. Pilots at several other U.S. carriers, including Alaska Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Spirit Airlines, have already agreed to similar job-saving arrangements. Southwest Airlines has committed to avoid all furloughs through year-end. American Airlines, by contrast, still plans to let go of around 1,600 pilots on Oct. 1. 

Ben Goldstein

Based in Washington, Ben covers Congress, regulatory agencies, the Departments of Justice and Transportation and lobby groups.