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JetBlue’s ALPA has announced an agreement it approved with the airline to prevent involuntary pilot furloughs until May 1, 2021. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

JetBlue Will Not Furlough Pilots Until 2021, Delta Announces Furloughs Beginning Oct. 1

JetBlue’s Air Line Pilots Association Master Executive Council (MEC), a union that represents JetBlue’s pilots, has voted to approve a Letter of Agreement (LOA) with JetBlue that prevents JetBlue pilots from involuntary furloughs until May 1, 2021, per an internal email obtained by AirlineGeeks. The protections will prevent furloughs under any circumstances and protect all JetBlue pilots.

This agreement is the largest employee protection approved by any airline in the U.S. All other airlines that received money from the CARES Act are, at the time of writing, required to avoid involuntary furloughs through the end of September. Airlines that did not receive money through the CARES Act, however, are not bound to any employment guarantees. Under this agreement, therefore, JetBlue is providing its pilots with an additional seven months of guaranteed employment — or, at the very least, additional benefits — through buyouts should they be forced to solicit staff for voluntary furloughs.

The union has said the deal “maintains the integrity of our [collective bargaining agreement (CBA)]” in that it does not include changes to CBA-mandated pay rates, nor does it make “significant modifications” to work rules, per the letter.

The MEC declined to offer additional details in its email to members, saying that it is legally bound by a non-disclosure agreement over certain key details as the LOA is finalized. But it did add that “our pilots are entitled to know as much information as can be legally provided,” while urging pilots to disregard speculation on the matter.

It is unclear whether this agreement applies to, or will eventually be extended to, other employees at JetBlue.

In addition to offering JetBlue pilots an additional seven months of guaranteed employment, this agreement ends at an important time for the American travel industry. Drug companies currently working on vaccines for the novel Coronavirus estimate that they may be able to finalize and approve a drug by the end of 2020 or the start of 2021, thanks to a breakthrough earlier this spring. If a vaccine could be widely available by summer 2021, demand could significantly increase in the period surrounding its release.

While it is yet to be known if drugs will actually be available in that timeline, if they are, JetBlue, like other carriers in the U.S. and around the world, could see a substantial increase in demand around this May 1 deadline. That could potentially prevent them from ever needing to lay off or furlough any pilots at all.

Delta Commits to Furloughs

No other airline has yet to make a commitment this firm and wide-ranging to keep jobs after Oct. 1, when CARES Act restrictions are set to run out. In fact, in recent months, some airlines — United Airlines being the most vocal — have set the stage for layoffs beginning Oct. 1 by releasing statements saying they would be unable to maintain current employment levels without further government support.

Additionally, Delta Air Lines sent messages to some of its employees to alert than that they would be temporarily furloughed on Oct. 1. In an email obtained by AirlineGeeks sent to an undisclosed number of pilots from Delta Vice President of Flight Operations Patrick Burns, recipients are told, “We regret to inform you that your position is anticipated to be affected [by mass furloughs resulting from overstaffing] and we anticipate that you will be furloughed on October 1.”

Though the message also says that it is possible the furloughs “may be rescinded if necessary, to meet operational needs,” it does say that employees receiving the message should “plan accordingly and prepare as if you will be furloughed on October 1.”

There have also been reports that the U.S. House of Representatives could begin working on a new widespread stimulus package in July that could, among other things, provide airlines with more money to further prevent involuntary layoffs. But no substantial deal has yet to be confirmed.

John McDermott
John McDermott
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