American Airlines will begin furloughing 19,000 workers from today Thursday, the company announced, as US officials have failed to reach a deal on fresh aid to the pandemic-hit air travel sector.
US carriers that received billions in aid from Congress had promised to refrain from laying off workers until the end of September, setting the stage for potentially thousands of job cuts in October.
“Our elected officials have not been able to reach agreement on a Covid-19 relief package… As a result, tomorrow, we will begin the difficult process of furloughing 19,000 of our hardworking and dedicated colleagues,” CEO Doug Parker said in a letter Wednesday.
However, he sounded a note of hope saying that if lawmakers are able to hammer out a deal for new assistance, the furloughs would be cancelled and the affected teams recalled.
Since the coronavirus intensified in March, US airlines have been grounding planes and delaying jet deliveries to limit their cash-burn as air travel remains at about only one-third of its level a year ago.
Carriers have struck agreements with unions to spread out work among employees. Tens of thousands of employees have also accepted unpaid leave or early retirement packages to avert the need for involuntary terminations.
Still, the decisions will not be enough to avert all job cuts. Airlines have said they do not expect a full recovery until a vaccine is widely available, which company executives have said may not be until late 2021.
Unions have said 100,000 people or more could be laid off without additional federal aid, but analysts expect a smaller number than that as airlines and unions seek ways to avoid layoffs.