As the federal relief under the CARES Act is set to expire, American Airlines notified 19,000 of its U.S. employees on Tuesday that they will be furloughed this fall.
In order to receive aid through the Payroll Support Program (PSP), airlines are prohibited from laying off any employees until Oct. 1. As that deadline looms, other airlines are also announcing job cuts as air travel remains down around 70% compared with last year and experts predict it will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.
“Today is the hardest message we have had to share so far,” American CEO Doug Parker and President Robert Isom said in a letter to employees.
The company announced Tuesday it will furlough approximately 17,500 U.S. based employees — including 1,600 pilots and 8,100 flight attendants.
“I’m sobbing on the plane,” one American Airlines flight attendant who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of being fired told ABC News.
He was notified he would be furloughed on Tuesday and that Oct. 2 would be his last day in “active status.”
“Every crew member in the terminal is visually upset,” he said.
The flight attendant told ABC News last week he was applying to other jobs and that many of his colleagues were making ends meet by working for Uber and Instacart.
“While the furlough is temporary, there is no way to predict how long it will last,” Jill Surdek, senior vice president of flight service at American Airlines, said in a letter reviewed by ABC News to affected flight attendants.
Delta Air Lines announced Monday it plans to furlough almost 2,000 pilots this fall. That’s on top of the over 1,500 pilots that agreed to voluntarily leave the company.
While United Airlines has not disclosed how many employees it will furlough, it warned approximately 36,000 employees — almost 45% of its front-line U.S.-based workforce — they may face job cuts in the fall.
Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways are still hoping to avoid any layoffs, at least in the short term.
Executives have warned they will need to emerge from the pandemic as smaller airlines, but they are still pushing lawmakers for an extension of the PSP to mitigate layoffs.
“The one possibility of avoiding these involuntary reductions on Oct. 1 is a clean extension of the PSP,” Parker and Isom said. “Led by your labor unions, with the support of the industry, we have generated enormous bipartisan support for such an extension.”
A group of 16 Senate Republicans and over 200 House members have expressed their support for an extension of the payroll support program, but they have yet to reach an agreement.