United Airlines Reaches Deal To Avoid Pilot Furloughs

United Airlines has reportedly reached a tentative deal with its pilots unions to avoid furloughing just under 3,000 aviators on October 1st. The jobs were revealed to be at risk, along with 13,000 other positions, in a leaked memo from the company over a week ago.

United 787
United has reached a tentative agreement with pilots unions. Photo: United Airlines

United has done a deal

Facing a disastrous downturn in travel demand, which is predicted to persist for some years, airlines all over the world have been shrinking fleets and workforces. United Airlines is no exception. Having been required by the terms of the CARES Act to avoid furlough until the end of September, the airline is now facing up to the reality of going forward with far fewer employees.

Following the worrying revelation that United Airlines could need to furlough more than 16,000 workers on October 1st, the airline has now reached a tentative agreement to prevent at least one sector of its workforce from ending up out of work. CNBC reported yesterday that a deal was in the works with United’s 13,000 pilots to prevent the furlough of almost 3,000 of their colleagues.

While the details of the agreement have not been revealed, CNBC reported on a note from Todd Insler, sent to members of the United Airlines chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) which said,

“Any potential mitigation must achieve our goals: stop planned furloughs, stop displacements, and include long-term permanent gains for any short-term, fully recoverable modifications.

“Management continues to say they want to reduce involuntary furloughs so they can excel during a future recovery; now is the time to see if they are willing to pay for that flexibility.”

It appears the union is taking a hard line with United and that Insler is unwilling to accept any offer that would involve significant loss of money to ALPA’s members. Nevertheless, the tentative agreement is a positive sign, one which will need to be ratified by pilots before it can be implemented.

United Pilots
United’s pilots are a step closer to securing their future. Photo: United Airlines

United Airlines was optimistic about the news. A spokesperson told Simple Flying,

“We continue to try and reduce the number of involuntary furloughs at United and are happy we were able to reach an agreement in principle with ALPA that can potentially save pilot jobs.”

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Saving the pilots

Of the 16,370 employees whose jobs were noted to be at risk at the end of the month, 2,850 were pilots. A further 6,920 were flight attendants, leaving a considerable number of ground crew, support staff and other employees still worried about their jobs. Not wishing to take the shine off the United pilot deal, it somehow seems like the tip of the iceberg in terms of job losses. It’s a trend we’ve seen across the industry.

UNITED employees
It’s not just pilots whose jobs are at risk. Photo: United Airlines

JetBlue was one of the first to announce that an agreement had been reached with its pilots. The airline managed to firm up a deal that would see no JetBlue pilot furloughed until at least May 2021.

Subsequently, both Southwest and Spirit have firmed up agreements with their pilots unions in the US, and other carriers across the pond have also reached satisfactory deals. Although this is, in itself, good news, there are still a whole lot of job roles on the line.

Airlines want to be in a position to snap back when the travel demand rebounds, undoubtedly a good reason to keep as many pilots on the books as possible. We can only hope that other job roles within the organizations are similarly seen as essential to a healthy restart, and creative means are sought to maintain these contracts if we are to avoid a huge loss of talent in the industry.