Why United Is Planning A Second Round Of Furloughs – For Pilots Only

United was first to publicly warn that a large number of its employees would be unneeded after CARES Act funding ends, because there’s less demand for travel so they’ll be running fewer flights. They were also first out with news of legally-required WARN Act notices for about 39% of employees, preparing to be able to furlough union workers once government subsidies end.

It turns out the airline isn’t done.

  • The previous plan was to furlough just 2250 pilots in the fourth quarter, and make a decision on 1650 more pilots later.

  • Now they’re planning for even more furloughs since they no longer expect to see as much travel recover as quickly.

The airline wants pilots to aggressively accept ‘early outs’ to reduce the need to furlough. And they want to send a message to Congress that job losses will be even bigger than they’ve said before, to put pressure on for a second round of subsidies.

However the situation is real, their point of view is that travel comes back to 50% at most until a vaccine is widely available. And the next step with furloughs is more pilots.

That’s because their original plan was relatively light on pilot furloughs. It’s costly and time-consuming to bring pilots back from furlough. So an airline is willing to keep more pilots on than it needs immediately, if the carrier expects flying to pick up over the course of 6-9 months.

United’s initial furlough plan included an expectation of more flying by mid-2021, and now that it’s doubting that plan they’re telling pilots they may let even more of them go. Flight attendants they thought they’d need back by mid-2021 were already in the initial furlough plan figuring those would be easier and faster to bring back than pilots.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Air travel does not get back to normal until there is a vaccine AND that vaccine is distributed to the majority of the population. Earliest I can see that happening is mid 2021, and that assumes a proven vaccine is ready by the start of 2021.

    Therefore, call it Q3 of 2021…..yeah its going to be a bad ride for the airlines for at least another year. The extension of the CARES act will give them a longer lifeline.

  2. The only bright spot is that the military should be able to retain any pilot who was going to leave to fly commercial.

  3. For those who are not aware, the cost to attend civilian flight school, and the mandatory rating and flight hours. is a lot of money. It’s the reason that so many join the military to get those coveted credentials. These young people really have to sacrifice and pay their dues in order to land a flight crew position and start to build their seniority and their careers. To have something like covid derail their dreams is heartbreaking.

    Let’s hope that the most senior pilots make room for some of these young crew members by retiring and letting the newbies continue their careers. Damn shame.

  4. Those senior pilots that everyone talks about had to fight for their life through oil embargoes of the 70s, Air traffic controllers strike in the 80s, gulf wars of the 90s , september 11th terrorist strike, bankruptcy, and the recession of 2008. Most of us have spent 3 decades or longer struggling to become a captain at a major airline. To give up our dreams to help the next generation of aviators is a tall order to ask, even harder to accept.

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