Flight attendants, airport customer service, and gate agents will be affected the most.
On Wednesday, United Airlines announced that it is warning 36,000 (or 45 percent) of its United States-based employees that layoffs could occur on or around October 1 due to the travel industry being unable to "rebound" from the effects of the pandemic.
United Airlines is calling the layoffs "involuntary furloughs" due to the fact that many of the employees will be eligible for rehire when the need for travel becomes apparent, all under the terms of their union contracts; however, this is something that some industry executives think could take years.
"None of the decisions we've made so far have been more difficult than the decision we are announcing today," an airline official said in a press call on Wednesday.
Roughly 15,000 flight attendants, 11,000 airport operations employees, 5,000 technical operations employees, 2,200 pilots, and hundreds of other employees will be affected by the layoffs.
"The United Airlines projected furlough numbers are a gut punch, but they are also the most honest assessment we’ve seen on the state of the industry," said Sara Nelson, a United flight attendant and president of its labor union, the Association of Flight Attendants.
However, officials do make a note that just because employees may receive a warning layoff notice, it does not mean that they will be furloughed. This decision to announce the warning of possible layoffs was to give employees "as much time as possible" to figure out what next steps may need to be taken and how this could impact their careers.
Under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, airlines are prohibited from laying off works until October 1.
According to USA TODAY, in a briefing with reporters, airline executives said that "they hope the final tally, which will be known in mid- to late August, will be less than 36,000 as more employees accept voluntary exit programs." The program has been extended to July 15 in order to give workers more time to sign up, and it allows them to take unpaid voluntary leave.
"We continue to offer voluntary programs and are moving forward with our management and administrative reorganization to align our payroll expenses with overall demand," said a spokesperson.
Executive salaries and raises have been cut and non-critical projects and non-essential hires have been frozen in order to make sure that the "involuntary furloughs would be a last resort."
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