United Airlines to initially hire 300 new pilots as travel demand rebounds

(Reuters) – United Airlines on Thursday said it would hire about 300 pilots as travel demand rebounds as a rising number of Americans get COVID-19 vaccination, according to the company’s internal memo seen by Reuters.

United, which has more than 12,000 pilots, will hire pilots who either had a new hire class date that was canceled or a 2020 conditional job offer. Congress in March approved a six-month extension of a government program that gives airlines significant payroll assistance.

Since September 2020, almost 1,000 United pilots have either retired or participated in voluntary leave programs but the airline said “the number of new pilots needed will be dependent on our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

United Chief Executive Scott Kirby said on a U.S. aviation summit on Wednesday that domestic leisure demand “has almost entirely recovered.”

(Reporting by Shreyasee Raj in Bengaluru, David Shepardson in Washington and Tracy Rucinski in Chicago; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Aurora Ellis)

American Airlines begins return of workers after payroll relief

By Tracy Rucinski

CHICAGO (Reuters) -American Airlines is beginning the phased return of furloughed workers after the U.S. Congress passed a pandemic aid package with $15 billion in payroll support for airlines, its executives said in a staff memo on Tuesday.

“While pay and benefits will be restored right away, people will be asked to return to the operation in phases,” Chief Executive Doug Parker and President Robert Isom said in the memo, released by American.

Air passenger traffic is down by about 70% versus a year ago as the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the travel industry. U.S. airlines furloughed tens of thousands of employees when an initial $25 billion in federal payroll support that banned job cuts expired in October.

United Airlines executives warned on Monday that its recall of furloughed employees after the fresh aid would be “temporary,” saying “we just don’t see anything in the data that shows a huge difference in bookings over the next few months.”

American said the relief would help airlines serve passengers once the pandemic subsides, and in the nearer term, aid in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and other critical supplies.

Airlines have said they do not expect a robust travel recovery until vaccines or effective treatments are widely available.

American, which has furloughed nearly 19,000 employees since October, stands to receive roughly $3 billion from the payroll package, one person briefed on the matter said.

The new aid package includes similar conditions as the previous one, such as caps on executive compensation and share buybacks, and requires airlines to repay 30% of the payroll grants over time, offer the government warrants, and restore some routes.

The program could stave off job reductions for the time being at Southwest Airlines, which has asked unions to accept pay cuts to prevent its first-ever furloughs next year.

A Southwest spokesman said the company had no updates on the potential furloughs and would closely examine the final terms and conditions of the program once the bill becomes law.

Among other large U.S. carriers, Delta Air Lines avoided furloughs this year after reducing work hours for its largely non-union staff. Its unionized pilots agreed to pay cuts to avoid furloughs through 2021.

(Reporting by Tracy RucinskiEditing by Chris Reese; Philippa Fletcher and Bill Berkrot)

Top U.S. airlines starting 32,000 furloughs as bailout hopes fade

By Tracy Rucinski and David Shepardson

CHICAGO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – American Airlines and United Airlines, two of the largest U.S. carriers, said they were beginning furloughs of over 32,000 workers on Thursday as hopes faded for a last-minute bailout from Washington.

Both airlines told employees, however, in memos seen by Reuters on Wednesday that they stood ready to reverse the furloughs, which affect about 13% of their workforces before the pandemic, if a deal was reached.

Tens of thousands of other employees at those airlines and others including Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines have accepted buyouts or leaves of absence aimed at reducing headcount as carriers battle a health crisis that has upended the global travel industry.

U.S. airlines have been pleading for another $25 billion in payroll support to protect jobs for a further six months once the current package, which banned furloughs, expires at midnight EDT.

Earlier, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said talks with House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi had made progress on a bipartisan aid plan, although no deal was reached and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief proposal “outlandish.”

In a memo to employees, American Chief Executive Doug Parker said Mnuchin told him that he and Pelosi were continuing to negotiate on a bipartisan COVID-19 relief package that would include an extension of aid for airlines and could reach an agreement in coming days.

“Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that any of these efforts will come to fruition,” Parker said.

American will furlough 19,000 employees, including some 1,600 pilots. More than 13,000 United employees will be on furlough, but not any pilots following an agreement reached this week.

“Tomorrow, tens of thousands of essential aviation workers will wake up without a job or healthcare and tens of thousands more will be without a paycheck,” Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson said in a statement that urged lawmakers to reach a deal.

Nick Calio, who heads the airline trade group Airlines for America, said earlier that the industry was still pursuing all potential avenues for new assistance as time runs short.

“People keep talking, but we need results,” Calio told Reuters. “We are hopeful but not confident about them reaching a deal on a larger bill.”

U.S. airline shares ended flat on Wednesday.

Weeks of intense airline lobbying has won over many but not all Washington lawmakers, while drawing attention to the plight of other pandemic-hit industries as the crisis persists.

U.S. airlines are operating about half their 2019 flying schedules and suffering a 68% decline in passenger volumes.

The impact of the coronavirus on travel may cost as many as 46 million jobs globally, according to projections published on Wednesday by the Air Transport Action Group.

Airlines have argued they need trained employees to help drive an economic recovery as the pandemic subsides. American Airlines’ Parker told CNN he believed one more round of aid would be sufficient.

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski and David Shepardson; Editing by Peter Henderson and Peter Cooney)

U.S. House Speaker Pelosi to meet with top U.S. airline CEOs

By David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski

WASHINGTON/CHICAGO (Reuters) – House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi will speak on Friday afternoon with the chief executives of top U.S. airlines, who are urging Congress to approve another $25 billion in assistance to keep tens of thousands of U.S. workers on the payroll past Sept. 30, sources said.

Pelosi and House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio are expected to hold a 2:45 p.m. EDT (1845 GMT) call with the chief executives of United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines and others, a Democratic aide told Reuters.

In an interview with NBC’s “Today Show” on Friday, American Chief Executive Doug Parker urged lawmakers to “come together and get it done. … We just need people to do what’s right. I know we’re better than this, and our people deserve better.”

At the end of this month, the $25 billion in federal payroll assistance airlines received when the coronavirus first began spreading around the world is set to expire.

Airlines and unions are now pleading for a six-month extension as part of a bipartisan proposal for another $1.5 trillion in coronavirus relief, while simultaneously negotiating with employees to minimize thousands of job cuts that are expected without another round of aid.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows met with major airline chief executives on Thursday. He said President Donald Trump is also open to a stand-alone measure to aid airlines, though congressional aides say that is unlikely to win support given aid requests from so many other struggling industries.

American has said it plans to end service to 15 small communities without additional government assistance and furlough about 19,000 workers.

Air travel has plummeted over the last six months as the coronavirus pandemic has claimed nearly 196,000 American lives and prompted many to avoid airports and planes, seriously depressing airline revenues.

Congress also set aside another $25 billion in government loans for airlines, but many have opted not to tap that funding source.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Airline CEOs plead with White House to avert looming U.S. job cuts

By Jeff Mason and David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows met with major airline chief executives on Thursday as the industry braces for thousands of job cuts in two weeks, and urged lawmakers to embrace a $1.5 trillion coronavirus aid package proposed by a bipartisan congressional group and endorsed by President Donald Trump.

Meadows told reporters said that if House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi was willing to move a bill that would support airline workers and prevent layoffs, Trump would support it, noting the looming layoffs of thousands of workers set for Oct 1.

American Airlines Chief Executive Doug Parker said airlines would also be working with Pelosi.

​Meadows said the administration had examined executive action options, all of them less than ideal.

Airlines did not offer a new proposal but again made the case that helping avert airline job cuts was one good reason to pass a broad coronavirus relief bill.

After the meeting with Meadows, Parker said it was “not fair” that thousands of airline workers were about to be laid off. “We’re just here to plead with everyone involved to get to a quarterly package before October 1.”

Southwest Airlines Chief Executive Gary Kelly said the initial payroll support plan “didn’t go far enough and long enough.”

American has said it plans to end service to 15 small communities without additional government assistance.

At the end of this month the $25 billion in federal payroll assistance airlines received when the coronavirus first began spreading around the world is set to expire.

Congress also set aside another $25 billion in government loans for airlines, but many have opted not to tap that funding source.

Companies such as American are now pleading for a six-month extension while they simultaneously negotiate with employees to minimize thousands of job cuts that are expected without another round of aid.

Air travel has plummeted over the last six months as the coronavirus pandemic has claimed nearly 196,000 American lives and prompted many to avoid airports and planes, seriously depressing airline revenues.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert, David Shepardson and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Jonathan Oatis)

United Airlines to cut 16,370 jobs as the pandemic rages

By Tracy Rucinski

CHICAGO (Reuters) – United Airlines is preparing to furlough 16,370 workers when federal aid expires on Oct. 1 as the coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate the airline industry, it said on Wednesday.

Chicago-based United had over 90,000 employees before the pandemic brought the industry to a near standstill in March. It warned in July that 36,000 jobs were at risk of involuntary furloughs as demand remained weak.

Some 7,400 employees have opted to take early retirement or departure packages and the company is working through several other voluntary temporary leave programs to further reduce the number of furloughs, United officials said.

The leaves would give the company flexibility to call back staff once travel returns, they said.

Airlines received $25 billion in U.S. government stimulus funds in March meant to cover payrolls and protect jobs through September, when the industry had hoped for a rebound.

As bailout money runs out without a travel recovery in sight, airlines and unions have lobbied Washington for another $25 billion but talks have stalled as Congress has struggled to reach agreement on a broader coronavirus assistance package.

U.S. passenger airlines are still collectively losing more than $5 billion a month as 30% of planes remain parked. Passenger travel demand is down about 70% and, on average, planes that are flying are half-full.

United’s schedule for September is 63% smaller than a year ago.

United’s cuts will affect around 2,850 pilots, 6,920 flight attendants, 2,010 mechanics and 1,400 management and administrative positions, among others, though negotiations continue with pilots to reduce the final number.

Rival American Airlines last week said it would lay off 19,000 workers without federal aid. Including voluntary departures or leaves, its 140,000 pre-pandemic workforce will shrink by 30%.

Delta Air Lines plans to lay off nearly 2,000 pilots without wage concessions, but has not said how many jobs for workers including flight attendants and mechanics are at risk.

President Donald Trump has said his administration would help U.S. airlines but has not given any details.

Congress also approved another $25 billion in loans for airlines under the first stimulus package, but not all of them are tapping the funds.

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Richard Chang)

United Airlines bets on Florida, adding dozens of flights a day starting November

By David Shepardson

(Reuters) – United Airlines is adding up to 28 daily nonstop U.S. flights to Florida starting Nov. 6 as the Chicago-based airline bets on a rebound in leisure travelers heading to sunny skies.

The direct flights are from non United hub cities in Boston, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, New York/LaGuardia, Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio to four Florida destinations.

United said it is part of its “continuing strategy to aggressively, and opportunistically manage the impact of COVID-19 by increasing service to destinations where customers most want to fly.” But the carrier said it could reduce the number of flights if COVID-19 infections in Florida remain high.

New Florida flights will go to Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Orlando and Tampa.

Ankit Gupta, United’s vice president of domestic network planning, said the new flights represent “United’s largest expansion of point-to-point, non-hub flying and reflects our data driven approach to add capacity where customers are telling us they want to go.”

United can adjust up or down. Gupta said the added Florida flights could amount to more than 400,000 additional seats this winter season. He said many U.S. travelers are picking Florida instead of international destinations.

There are modest signs of improving air travel demand. The Transportation Security Administration said it screened 831,789 people on Sunday — the first time it screened more than 800,000 people since March 17. That is still down 70% over prior year figures.

Still, Florida has reported 542,792 coronavirus cases, the second most of any U.S. state behind only California, according to a Reuters tally, and more than 10% of all reported U.S. cases. If coronavirus cases in Florida remain high, “we will adjust our plans,” Gupta said.

Southwest Airlines chief executive Gary Kelly said at a Texas Tribune forum on Wednesday the airline is still trying to figure how many flights to offer as it works to reduce its $20 million a day losses. “It is pure guesswork at this point” Kelly said.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio)

Southwest Airlines extends 737 MAX cancellations through October 1

FILE PHOTO: A number of grounded Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft are shown parked at Victorville Airport in Victorville, California, U.S., March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

(Reuters) – Southwest Airlines Co on Thursday said it was extending the cancellation of Boeing’s 737 MAX planes from its flying schedule until Oct. 1, a day after the Federal Aviation Administration warned it had uncovered a new issue that must be resolved before the plane can be ungrounded.

The airline had previously planned to keep the jet off its flying schedule through Sept. 2. Boeing Co’s MAX fleet has been grounded since March, following a second fatal crash in five months.

Southwest, the world’s largest MAX operator with 34 jets, said the delay will result in removing about 150 flights out of its total peak daily schedule of 4,000.

The FAA on Wednesday said it had identified a new potential risk that Boeing must address on the planes.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that Boeing will not conduct a certification test flight until July 8, under a best-case scenario. The test is a necessary step before Boeing can submit a formal request for approval of a software upgrade for the planes.

Southwest said it “made this decision before any developments of the past few days.”

Once the FAA approves the MAX for flight, Southwest has said it would take about 30 days to get the jets up and running again.

American Airlines said on Thursday it did not “have any schedule announcement to make at this time.” United Airlines on Wednesday said it was extending cancellations into September.

Boeing shares were down 2.5% at $365.48 on Thursday.

(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Bill Berkrot)

United says cockpit door codes may have been published online

FILE PHOTO: A United Airlines aircraft taxis as another lands at San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, California, U.S., February 7, 2015. REUTERS/Louis Nastro/File Photo

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Codes to gain access to United Airlines cockpits may have been made public, the carrier said on Monday, but it stopped short of confirming a report that a flight attendant inadvertently published the codes online in a potential threat to air security.

The airline still could keep its flight decks secure through other measures, Maddie King, a spokeswoman for United Continental Holdings Corp, said in an email. She declined to specify the other safeguards because of security considerations.

“We are working to resolve this issue as soon as possible,” she said.

Citing a pilot who was briefed on the matter, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that United, the world’s third-largest airline by revenue, had alerted pilots that access codes to unlock cockpit doors were mistakenly posted on a public website by a flight attendant.

Cockpit security emerged as a top priority for airlines in September 2001, when hijackers took control of United and American Airlines planes and crashed them into New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington. A third airliner commandeered by jihadists crashed in a western Pennsylvania field.

The United unit of the Air Line Pilots Association said in a statement that the accidental leak of information showed the need for stronger protections for flight deck doors.

The union has long backed secondary barriers, which it said would cost $5,000 each, and called on Congress to mandate them.

“The installation of secondary barriers on all passenger aircraft is a simple and cost effective way to bolster the last line of flight deck defense,” the union said.

(Editing by Frank McGurty and Bill Trott)

United Airlines reaches settlement with passenger dragged from plane

FILE PHOTO - A United Airlines Boeing 787 taxis as a United Airlines Boeing 767 lands at San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, California, U.S. on February 7, 2015. REUTERS/Louis Nastro/File Photo

By Timothy Mclaughlin

CHICAGO (Reuters) – United Airlines <UAL.N> and the passenger who was dragged from a Chicago flight earlier this month have reached a settlement for an undisclosed sum, they said on Thursday, in the carrier’s latest step to contain damage from an incident that sparked international outrage.

Viral videos of Dr. David Dao being dragged down the aisle of a United jet and Chief Executive Oscar Munoz’s handling of the incident touched off a public outcry, prompted calls from congressmen for new industry regulation, and led United’s board of directors to reverse an agreement to make Munoz company chairman in 2018.

United said earlier on Thursday that it would offer passengers who give up their seats up to $10,000, reduce overbooking of flights and no longer call on law enforcement officers to deny ticketed passengers their seats.

Southwest Airlines also said on Thursday that it would end overbooking of flights.

Dao, a 69-year-old Vietnamese-American doctor, was injured when Chicago aviation police removed him from his seat and then dragged him from the plane to make space for four crew members on the flight from O’Hare International Airport to Louisville, Kentucky.

United has taken “full responsibility for what happened on Flight 3411, without attempting to blame others, including the City of Chicago,” Thomas Demetrio, an attorney for Dao, said in a statement.

Demetrio said there was no need to proceed with separate litigation against the city. Republic Airways, United’s regional partner which operated the flight that Dao was on, has also been released from responsibility as part of the settlement, Demetrio’s office said.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office declined to comment on the settlement.

The three Chicago Department of Aviation officers who pulled Dao off the plane and a supervisor involved in the incident remain on paid leave, said Chicago Department of Aviation spokesman Karen Pride, who declined to comment on the settlement.

United said in a separate statement that it was pleased to reach “an amicable resolution of the unfortunate incident that occurred aboard flight 3411.”

“We look forward to implementing the improvements we have announced, which will put our customers at the center of everything we do,” the airline said.

Munoz stressed that point in a letter sent on Thursday to customers, saying the airline would increase its focus on their satisfaction.

“We can never say we are sorry enough for what occurred, but we also know meaningful actions will speak louder than words,” he said.

Separately, officials at 10 of the busiest U.S. airports said their rules prevent security officers from physically removing passengers from airplanes unless a crime is committed.

(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Additional reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Richard Chang)