American, United prepare to recall thousands of employees as relief nears

Vaccine airlift delivers shot in the arm for airlines
FILE PHOTO: An American Airlines cargo plane lands at Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., December 4, 2020. REUTERS/Rachel Wisniewski

December 21, 2020

By Tracy Rucinski and David Shepardson

CHICAGO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – American Airlines and United Airlines said on Monday they were preparing to recall tens of thousands of furloughed employees as they awaited lawmakers’ approval of a fresh $15 billion in payroll support under a broader COVID-19 relief package.

Wrestling with a sharp downturn in travel demand amid the pandemic, American and United together furloughed more than 32,000 workers in October, when an initial $25 billion to cover six months of airline workers’ salaries expired.

“We are already starting to work through the details of how we will bring back team members, but we’re not over the finish line yet,” American CEO Doug Parker and President Robert Isom said in a memo on Monday that urged Congress to pass the legislation quickly.

A United spokesman said the company was also preparing to bring back furloughed employees once lawmakers approve the bill.

The House of Representatives and Senate were aiming to pass a bipartisan $900 billion coronavirus aid package before the end of the day.

“If passed into law quickly, we should be able to get everyone a paycheck on Christmas Eve,” American’s executives said.

The $15 billion earmarked for airlines requires all furloughed workers to be recalled and receive their full salaries from Dec. 1 through March 31, 2021.

The terms of the new assistance program mirror the initial package passed by Congress in March, which required larger airlines to repay 30% of the payroll grants over time and offer the government warrants.

It also requires airlines to resume flying to some routes stopped after the first package expires, and gives the Transportation secretary authority until March 1, 2022 to require flights to small and remote communities that airlines served before the pandemic.

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said the legislation will restore paychecks for over 100,000 flight attendants and other aviation workers who lost their jobs on Oct 1.

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski and David Shepardson; Editing by Dan Grebler)