Airlines Wait for Federal Help as Workforce Cuts Hit Industry

Financial aid bill fails in House day after devastating round of furloughs begins

By Matt Neistei

Published October 5, 2020

Read Time: 3 mins


A last-gasp congressional attempt failed on Friday to provide the airline industry with another round of financial assistance as the ax began to fall on tens of thousands of jobs.

Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who visited Pittsburgh International Airport in May, pushed for a measure that would have extended the $25 billion Payroll Support Program for the industry. But he could not get the full House’s approval, which was needed to pass the bill on short notice.

“We are disheartened that Congress and the administration have been unable to reach an agreement that would save tens of thousands of highly skilled, quality jobs in the U.S. airline industry,” Nicholas Calio, president of trade group Airlines for America, told Bloomberg.

Lawmakers from both parties have expressed interest in finding a way to support the airline industry. The $2 trillion CARES Act passed in March provided tens of billions of dollars to airlines, airports and related businesses as the COVID-19 pandemic devastated air travel.

Since then, commercial passenger traffic has only recovered to about 30 percent of normal levels, and airlines and airports are still struggling with no firm timeline—or guarantee—for a full recovery.

One of the stipulations attached to the CARES Act money required airlines to maintain 90 percent of their payrolls until Oct. 1. Most offered voluntary furloughs, early retirements, buyouts and other measures to shrink their workforces, but they warned of heavy job losses if more aid did not arrive by then.

The House is in recess until after the Nov. 3 election, although legislative leaders could call members back for a vote that would not require unanimous approval. One possibility is that money for the airline industry would be part of a broader economic stimulus package similar to the CARES Act.

Separately, a Senate bill introduced on Sept. 21 would give passenger air carriers, cargo air carriers, and airline contractors an additional $28 billion in pandemic aid to cover payrolls. The prospects for that measure are unclear.

“We need relief for the whole country,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. “While Congress and the administration continue to negotiate a broader deal, aviation workers are out of time.”

Schedule changes at PIT

The Oct. 1 workforce reductions had little immediate impact on schedules at Pittsburgh International Airport, with airlines having adjusted to those announced losses weeks earlier. Thus, passengers likely will not see any drastic changes to their bookings for October.

Among the changes made for this month, JetBlue has re-launched service to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Delta has put Boston back on its route map as well. Also, Spirit has scheduled 14 flights to Tampa in October after not operating that route in September.

The industry-wide reductions have not resulted in drastic changes for airline schedules in October at PIT. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

Southwest will not serve St. Louis; Dallas Love; Phoenix; Fort Myers, Fla.; or Atlanta in October, destinations that saw a combined 27 flights in September.

However, the airline will add a combined 59 more flights to Denver, Tampa, Baltimore, Chicago Midway, Orlando and Nashville in October than it flew in September.

Allegiant will not serve Myrtle Beach, S.C., or Austin, Texas, after five flights to those cities in September. But the airline has scheduled an additional flight in October each for Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; and Punta Gorda, Jacksonville, Orlando Sanford, St. Petersburg, West Palm Beach and Sarasota/Bradenton, all in Florida.

American Airlines has reduced its number of flights to Charlotte and Philadelphia in October but added more frequencies to Miami and Dallas-Fort Worth.

United Airlines cut its frequencies to Chicago O’Hare and Washington Dulles but pumped up the number of flights to Houston Bush, Newark and Denver.

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