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Black Thursday Has Arrived: It’s Bad, But Not As Bad As Feared

With the CARES Act expired as of October 1st, thousands are furloughed, though thousands of airline pilots also got last-minute reprieves.

Thursday, Oct. 1 was Black Thursday for airlines. Here's why it wasn't as bad as was feared.
Thursday, Oct. 1 was Black Thursday for airlines. Here’s why it wasn’t as bad as was feared.
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For many thousands of airline pilots, Thursday, October 1st, 2020, was expected to be the end of the line for their flying employment, or at least a significant pitstop. That’s because the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump in March, expired on that day. As a reminder, it had secured $25 billion in federal aid for the U.S. airline industry, which has struggled with staggering profit losses amid lowered demand and travel restrictions brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

The bad news—there are a lot of layoffs, thousands. The good news? Thousands of others have gotten last-minute lifelines in the form of new agreements with their airliner employers, and pilots at other carriers are in the process of negotiating deals to delay those furloughs.

Here’s how the airlines are dealing with impending layoffs and furloughs, especially when it comes to pilots in their fleets.

Delta received 5.4 billion though CAREs, and it had signed a letter of intent with the possibility of taking a $4.6 billion loan through the federal aid program. As of Monday, September 28, it has stated that it does NOT intend to take the loan, instead taking on a $6.5 billion debt backed by SkyMiles. Most of their roughly 75,000 airline workers won’t face job cuts, thanks to voluntary LOAs, buyouts and shorter schedules—more than 40,000 of the airline’s employees signed up for varying voluntary leaves. However, Delta still plans to furlough more than 1,900 pilots but is still negotiating cost-cutting measures with their union. This has been delayed to November 1.

Southwest received $3.3 billion in payroll support, of which it must repay $990 million. However, it has also declined the CARES loan. The company has stated won’t need to furlough employees after getting nearly 17,000 workers to take early retirement and extended leaves, even after reporting a $915 million loss from the COVID-19 pandemic. The airline says that it will save about $400 million in the fourth quarter from employees opting out of working. Similarly, JetBlue has stated it’s deferring furloughs until May 2021, citing amicable union discussions and the shoring up of funds from voluntary leaves and opt-outs.

United and American have both have sent furlough notices to a total of more than 32,000 employees, saying the companies can’t afford to retain them on payroll as of today. However, United Airlines’ Air Line Pilots Associated reported last Monday that an agreement had been reached to protect about 2,800 pilot furloughs this year and another projected 1,000 furloughs in early 2021.

This is a developing story, with talks of an extension of the federal aid program and ongoing union negotiations. We will keep you updated.

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