United Reaches Agreement With Pilots Over Furlough Scheme

The United Airlines chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) has reportedly come to an agreement with the airline to reduce involuntary furloughs in the fall. Announced late yesterday, the deal includes ‘groundbreaking provisions’ to keep them current and to enable rapid recall when demand returns.

United 787
United Airlines has brokered a deal with the pilots union to avoid involuntary furloughs. Photo: United Airlines

Two packages to reduce furloughs

United Airlines and its pilots union say there have been two packages forged with the aim to minimize the number of involuntary furloughs in October. Details in a memo viewed by Reuters revealed the specifics of these.

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The first is early retirement deals. These will be offered to pilots aged 62 and above. The current mandatory retirement age in the USA, as specified by the FAA, is 65. Until around a decade ago, the maximum age for a commercial pilot was just 60, but it was raised in the face of potential pilot shortages.

Those who are unable to take the early retirement package will be offered a variety of options going forward. These include voluntarily reducing their hours or taking an extended leave of absence. Those taking leave will likely retain their health benefits as long as they keep their training current, something which United Airlines is willing to support.

United Airlines pilots
Pilots will be offered a variety of options to save their jobs. Photo: United Airlines

ALPA Chairman Todd Insler told Reuters that the deal included,

“…groundbreaking provisions that provide the option (for pilots) to remain qualified, allowing a faster recall once passenger demand returns.”

Any furloughs that can be avoided will be good for United, due to the time and costs involved in bringing them back. Should a vaccine be developed, and travel demand return more rapidly than expected, having pilots who are current and ready to fly will be a boon for the airline.

It was reported last week that the deal had been reached on a tentative basis, but now it has firmly been accepted by APLA, pilots will be more confident about how their futures look.

The tip of the iceberg

Although the deal for pilots is a great step in the right direction for United, there is still a long way to go before its labor issues are resolved. Earlier this month, 36,000 workers received a WARN notice, a legal requirement before any mass layoffs take place. Although a WARN is not a guarantee of a job being at risk, the fact it was sent to 45% of United’s employees indicates the scale of the problem at hand.

United Airlines Flight Attendants
Tens of thousands of other workers still await news of their futures. Photo: United Airlines

2,200 pilots were sent WARN notices, so there are still well over 33,000 workers concerned for their jobs. 15,000 of those are flight attendants – almost two-thirds of the workforce – not to mention over 10,000 airport operations employees, 5,500 technical workers, and hundreds of others.

Today’s announcement is a win for United who will be keen to keep their pilots on roll for as long as possible. However, for the other workers who are awaiting the outcome of their WARN notices, deals are taking their time to come.