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A United 787-10 at Paine Field in Everett, Wash. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Katie Bailey)

United Airlines, Pilot Union Avoid 3,000 Furloughs

United Airlines and the union that represents its 13,000 pilots have agreed to terms to avoid furloughs of close to 3,000 employees. United announced last week it planned to furlough 2,850 pilots in addition to almost 14,000 other staff. Neither party has yet offered details of the agreement, including how long furloughs are being postponed. It’s unclear how the move will cut costs. And it still needs to be approved by the union’s members and management.

“Any potential mitigation must achieve our goals: stop planned furloughs, stop displacements, and include long-term permanent gains for any short-term, fully recoverable modifications,” Todd Insler, chairman of the United Airlines chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association [ALPA], told union members in a note Tuesday, per CNBC. “Management continues to say they want to reduce involuntary furloughs so they can excel during a future recovery; no is the time to see if they are willing to pay for that flexibility.”

United CEO Scott Kirby previously said he wants to retain as much staff as possible to be able to snap back as quickly as possible per demand.

The airline said in a statement that it continues “to try and reduce the number of involuntary furloughs at United and are happy we were able to reach an agreement in principle with ALPA that can potentially save pilot jobs.”  

Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines and JetBlue Airways have all also agreed to postpone furloughs. Southwest has agreed not to furlough all workers through at least the end of 2020. Spirit and JetBlue’s commitments were focused on pilots with Spirit avoiding any furloughs through at least the end of the first quarter of 2021 and JetBlue through at least May 1 of next year.

Delta Air Lines plans to furlough close to 2,000 pilots if it cannot strike an agreement with unions. The airline earlier proposed cutting pilots’ minimum guaranteed pay by 15% to avoid furloughs for a year.

Airlines have a special interest in protecting pilot jobs. Pilots are highly specialized workers who need to be trained to fly specific aircraft at specific airlines, so needing to re-train them after furloughs could prove costly to the businesses when they need to bring pilots back on. Being able to keep pilots flying, even for fewer hours – as with Spirit Airlines’ deal – will keep pilots proficient and legally current in their current aircraft, which could save airlines money down the road when passenger counts substantially increase.

United’s move came hours after the carrier announced multiple new routes to Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and India in addition to Hawaii. In October, the airline plans to fly 40% of its October 2019 schedule, a move in line with increasing passenger counts across the U.S. hovering at roughly 40% of last year’s numbers.

John McDermott
John McDermott
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