Threats of national airline layoffs may affect hundreds of Austin workers


AUSTIN (KXAN) — About 40,000 airline workers across the United States face layoffs, unless Congress can pass another aid package.

The companies had agreed not to layoff any employees through the end of September in exchange for $25 billion in grants. Crucial payroll support program funding for the airlines was set to end Wednesday.

Before Wednesday was over, American Airlines said it will begin furloughing 19,000 employees Thursday, the Associated Press reported, and United Airlines confirmed it is moving forward with involuntarily furloughing about 13,000 employees.

The layoffs could affect hundreds in Austin.

American Airlines says they have about 200 workers at Austin’s airport.

Paul Hartshorn, Jr., a spokesperson for the Association of Professional flight attendants, says even more of the company’s employees live and work in the area.

“We probably have a couple hundred flight attendants alone—not counting other American Airlines employees that traveled to Dallas for their home base, that live in the Austin area,” he said.

United Airlines reports about 280 employees in Austin.

Neither company could tell us exactly how many employees might be laid off, but a union representative for United tells us 16 flight attendants alone are subject to involuntary furlough. That figure also does not include other United employees, he said, like mechanical workers.

“They’re looking at devastation for them and their families, they’re looking at losing their health care when it could be one of the most important times that we need to have health care, they’re looking at families that they have to put food on the table but they’re not sure if they’ll be able to,” Hartshorn, Jr. said.

The uncertainty has put the brakes on Ken VeArd’s career switch from software engineering to commercial pilot.

Ken VeArd says he hoped to finish his FAA-required flight hours in the next six months (Courtesy Ken VeArd)

“A lot of my friends in the industry have made this career change from technology to the airline pilot life,” VeArd said.

The pandemic’s effects took root as he was just 100 hours shy of meeting his FAA flight requirement.

“I do know several people who just recently went through training and have yet to actually fly. I know other people who have mentioned that they’re either being furloughed or laid off,” he said.

Hartshortn, Jr. says there’s bipartisan support for the Payroll Support Program and urges Congress to pass a broader coronavirus stimulus bill to get it moving.

“We’re down to the wire and it is unbelievable that we’ve gotten to this point, we have about 8,100 flight attendants at American Airlines—19,000 employees at American Airlines that are going to be out on the street come October,” Hartshorn, Jr. said.

He says cuts could have far-reaching impacts on connected industries, like local hotels and future hiring.

“There’s gonna be hundreds of pilots, flight attendants, ramp workers out of jobs for an unknown period of time it’s going to totally stifle the hiring at any airline,” he said.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said if lawmakers do come up with a deal for $25 billion in airline aid “over the next few days,” the company will reverse the furloughs and recall the employees, the Associated Press reported. United Airlines expressed the same sentiment.

“We have made clear to leadership in the Administration, Congress and among our union partners that we can and will reverse the furlough process, if the CARES Act Payroll Support Program is extended in the next few days,” United said in a statement.

VeArd is still hopeful that the industry will trend back upward.

“I’m in a fortunate position,” he said. “It’s the people that depend on their flying job to feed their family and do the things they do is the real big issue.”

“AUS is experiencing and expects to continue to experience a significant drop in aviation and non-aviation revenues because of COVID-19. While we still do not know the full impact the pandemic will have, the economic losses will be reflected in how AUS approaches both short- and long- term financial decisions, however at this time it’s too soon to comment on any potential impacts to future hiring.”

Bryce Dubee, ABIA spokesperson

Airports across the United states are expected to lose more than $23 billion as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Airports Council International – North America, which advocates for commercial airports in the U.S. and Canada.

The organization’s president says federal funding has helped support 2.7 million airport workers during the pandemic.

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