The union representing USA flight attendants has called on Congress to extend government financial help for airlines through the end of the year.
The payroll support program, part of the CARES Act passed by Congress in March. Designed to assist airlines to manage through the coronavirus crisis, runs out on 30 Sep. In return for $25 billion in government support, airlines agreed to keep up a network of skeleton service and pledged no involuntary layoffs or furloughs till that date.
The Association of Flight Attendants
But the Association of Flight Attendants says this is not enough time for the airlines to get back on stable financial footing following the pandemic. The union has asked for Congress to extend the program through the end of 2020. In order to avoid mass layoffs at the end of Sep if passenger demand doesn’t return.
“The program is set to expire on Sep 30th and the time to prepare for Oct one is currently,” Susannah Carr. A United Airlines flight attendant and union representative, tells a hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on 9 June.
“When CARES was written it was expected the industry would be closer to full recovery by the fall. It’s clear now, that will not happen. At a minimum, Congress should extend the program through the new year,” Carr says.
So far, about 40,000 flight attendants across the USA, or 35% of the country’s flight attendant workforce have taken voluntary leave offered by their airlines, she adds.
Major USA airlines are still running significantly reduced operations. Though several have said they have seen a small uptick in bookings as lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders across the country are being mitigated. However United has told employees that it’ll probably only need about 15% of its flight attendant workforce for the month of June. It’s unclear when and how travel demand will return, making it nearly impossible for airlines to plan beyond a few weeks out. United received about $5 billion of government payroll aid.
Airline trade industry group Airlines for America (A4A) and pilots’ union Air Line Pilots’ Association, International (ALPA) didn’t respond to requests for comment on the testimony.
Safety problems and protection from the virus remain important issues in travelers’ decision-making process. Whether they will return to the air and if so, when. The flight attendants’ union additionally says airlines aren’t doing enough to inspire passengers’ confidence to return to air travel.
Calling the coronavirus pandemic “the biggest crisis aviation has ever faced” Carr says that “a hodge-podge of individual voluntarily-adopted measures” by airlines have put workers and passengers at risk of becoming sick.
She encouraged Congress to pass emergency safety and health rules that would mandate airlines abide by “enforceable, mandatory, national standards” including additional cleaning protocols, social distancing measures and requiring all passengers to wear face coverings.
“It is clear to anyone working a flight that the current environment of inconsistent and voluntary airline policies isn’t working as it should,” Carr says. “These airline policies and practices are poorly communicated to crew and passengers alike, leaving flight attendants to risk our health and safety while trying to manage the otherwise avoidable conflicts that result,” she adds.