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American Airlines tells unions that more furloughs may be coming

American Airlines is warning its employee unions that it may send out another round of furlough notices next week, just weeks after recalling workers from furloughs.

Just after reporting an $8.9 billion annual loss and facing a continually depressed travel industry showing few signs of improvement, American Airlines told union leaders that it may send Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notices to workers who could again be out of work after government aid expires on March 31.

Unions for both flight attendants and fleet service workers sent letters to members warning about overstaffing in April and beyond.

“It has been a year since the pandemic began affecting our work life, and none of us thought we would be in such a precarious position over a year later,” Association of Professional Flight Attendants President Julie Hedrick told members in a letter.

The WARN notices don’t mean employees are guaranteed to be temporarily laid off. The notices are required by the federal government 60 days before an anticipated mass furlough or layoff. If American wants the option of furloughing workers in early April, it would need to get notices sent out soon.

CEO Doug Parker addressed the grim reality facing the company in his third-quarter earnings call.

“To state the obvious, April 1 is approaching ... so we are definitely going to need to address this unless demand starts to pick up,” Parker said.

Parker avoided talking about furloughs, but the company told unions the next day that another round of furloughs is possible if talks for more government aid fall through.

American Airlines was granted about $3.1 billion in stimulus grants and loans as part of the new round of government aid to help with payroll between December and March. That was on top of the $6 billion the company got last year.

“I know our unions are already talking to the administration and Congress about the current proposal for stimulus to be included in there,” Parker said. “We would obviously be supportive of that.”

But even government support to cover payrolls hasn’t been enough to put the company back on firm financial ground and American was burning through about $30 million of cash a day in the fourth quarter of 2020.

Airline traffic isn’t showing much sign of improvement either. Traffic is still down about 69% compared with last year, according to Airlines for American, a trade organization for major U.S. airlines. Planes are less than half full on average, too, the group said.

On Friday, 774,688 travelers passed through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints — compared with 2.15 million a year earlier.

Meanwhile, new COVID-19 cases hit new highs in January. The Biden administration instituted a new set of international travel restrictions that includes quarantines and testing requirements and a senior Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official warned that there are talks of the same requirements for domestic flights. In a letter to members, TWU Local 513 representing fleet service workers said American would offer another round of voluntary leave and early retirement, a move that saved the company billions last year when about 23,000 workers opted to step away temporarily or permanently. Southwest Airlines made a similar offer to its employees on Jan. 26. Meanwhile, United Airlines sent WARN notices to 14,000 employees this week.

While all of American’s 17,500 workers who were previously furloughed are getting paychecks, the company is still trying to get most back to work. Furloughed flight attendants won’t be back on the job until at least March, and many won’t be back until April or later.

“Travel demand, including business travel, continues to be depressed,” Hedrick said in her letter to American flight attendants. “While we know travel demand will eventually return, it is difficult to predict when a passenger uptick resembling 2019 will occur.”

Meanwhile, unions are pushing members to contact congressional leaders to make sure airline aid is again included in the next round of stimulus being prepared by the Biden administration and a new Democrat-led Congress.

This article originally appeared on Dallas Morning News

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