United Airlines To Furlough 2,850 Pilots

In an internal memo, United Airlines said on Thursday that it would need to furlough up to 2,850 of its pilots on October 1st. The carrier expressed its hopes that Congress could still pull through on a second stimulus package but said it was preparing for a future where an extension would not be granted.

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United may let as many as 2,850 of its cockpit crew go come October. Photo: United Airlines

As October 1st looms ominously ahead, US airlines are announcing crushing numbers of upcoming layoffs. Last in line to disclose figures for a particular employee group is United Airlines.

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Much smaller airline without second CARES

In an internal memo to the airline’s 13,000 pilots seen by Simple Flying, Bryan Quigley, United’s senior vice president of flight operations, said the carrier must become “much smaller” as government support runs out.

Quigley said that while he and United remain hopeful that Congress may yet come together over a second stimulus package, preparations need to be made in case it doesn’t. He signaled that as many as 2,850 pilot jobs would need to go when the aid designed to protect them expires.

“While the company, ALPA, and our other labor unions completely support and remain hopeful that Congress will make head-way on an extension of the Payroll Support Program, we need to prepare and plan for the future should an extension not be granted,” Quigley said in the letter sent out on Thursday.

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United will be “displacing” a third of its pilot positions from June 30th. Photo: Getty Images


The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents United’s pilots, told the Chicago Tribune that nearly 1,750 would be furloughed indefinitely on October 1st. Another 572 will be furloughed at the end of October, and 531 one month later.

Four hundred fifty of United’s pilots have opted for the carrier’s early retirement scheme. Offered to pilots 62 and above, this allows them to keep receiving reduced pay until their actual retirement.

An agreement reached between United and ALPA to avoid involuntary layoffs also provided for the option of taking a leave-of-absence or voluntarily reducing working hours. Those on leave would retain their benefits as long as they stay up to date with training. However, it is unclear how many, if any, of United’s pilots agreed to this.

United did not mention how many other employees it will need to furlough in the absence of more payroll support but has previously warned it may need to let as many as 36,000 employees go.

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United said that recovery and anticipated schedule continue to be uncertain. Photo: Getty Images

The letter further stated that the number of pilot furloughs was based on the current travel demand for the remainder of the year, and United’s anticipated flying schedule, which continues to be fluid as a result of surges in COVID-19 cases in regions across the country.

One month to go for US airlines

American Airlines has warned that it will be operating with as many as 40,000 fewer employees, with some 17,000 anticipated to be involuntarily laid off. Delta Air Lines will let close to 2,000 pilots go.

Conversely, JetBlue’s pilots at least are protected until May next year. Southwest has promised there will be no layoffs in 2020 as many employees opted for voluntary leaves of absence. However, the airline has said it will continue to plan for multiple scenarios.

All in all, it is a dire situation for thousands of aviation workers, all pinning their hopes on their representatives to set aside their differences in an election year and put pen to paper on another round of payroll support funding. It may not last long, but it could give the market a chance to recover just enough to lessen the impact on so many lives.

What do you think, will there be another life-line from lawmakers, or will the airlines be in for mass-furloughs in a month’s time? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.