United won’t furlough flight attendants in October as demand rebounds

FILE PHOTO: A United Airlines passenger jet takes off with New York City as a backdrop
FILE PHOTO: A United Airlines passenger jet takes off with New York City as a backdrop, at Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey, U.S. December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

June 11, 2021

By Tracy Rucinski

CHICAGO (Reuters) -United Airlines’ flight attendants will not be furloughed when federal aid meant to protect U.S. airline workers during the coronavirus pandemic expires on Oct. 1, according to a staff memo, thanks to a travel rebound.

The fate of U.S. airline workers has shifted dramatically in the three months since the industry won a third payroll support package in March. As more Americans receive COVID-19 vaccines, travel demand has surged, driving the need for more workers.

John Slater, United’s senior vice president of inflight services, cited an “increase in customer demand and our current outlook for the future” in his memo, which was reviewed by Reuters.

“This announcement makes it clear: the Payroll Support Program (PSP) worked,” said Sara Nelson, president of AFA International representing nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines including United.

U.S. airlines received a total of $54 billion in payroll aid which protected workers’ jobs and salaries even as they sat on the sidelines due to reduced flight schedules during the pandemic.

As vaccination rates climb, airlines are adding flights, bringing back workers, and in some cases planning to hire again.

United is adding more than 480 daily flights back to its schedule this month alone.

“Given the current outlook for the future of United, we continue to move closer to full frontline staffing levels to support our operation,” a United spokesperson said.

(Reporting by Tracy RucinskiEditing by Marguerita Choy)