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13,000 airline layoffs pile up in California as pandemic drags on

Five major airlines plan to furlough more than 13,000 California workers in October as they grapple with a steep drop-off in air travel amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In notices to the state Employment Development Department in July and earlier this month, the carriers offered up grim numbers that reflect a deep pullback in bookings among both leisure and business travelers.

Passengers exit a plane after arriving on a Southwest Airlines flight from Oakland at Ontario International Airport on Friday June 12, 2020. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Aaron J. Alter, executive vice president and chief legal officer for Hawaiian Airlines, said the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act helped his company temporarily avoid furloughs. But as economic impacts of COVID-19 intensify, Hawaiian is being forced to “right-size” all aspects of the company to adapt.

“This is not an action we want to take but is a dire measure to help us outlast this drastic economic downturn and preserve the company’s future,” Alter said in his notice to the EDD. “We are unable to predict at this time when our business operations will return to normal.”

The furloughs will impact a broad spectrum of jobs, ranging from flight attendants, customer service agents and aircraft technicians, to engineering specialists, front-desk receptionists and avionics technicians.

An industry in flux

Hawaiian’s planned furloughs are a drop in the bucket compared with the cuts other airlines have lined up. But they speak to an industry that’s struggling.

Figures released this week from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics show U.S. airlines carried 80% fewer passengers in June 2020 than in June 2019. But as bad as those numbers were, they showed a marked improvement from the year-over-year decrease of 96% in April and 90% in May.

United Airlines announced 8,906 California furloughs, including:

  • 1,890 temporary layoffs at Los Angeles International Airport
  • 6,796 at San Francisco International Airport
  • 67 at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana
  • 153 at San Diego International Airport

American Airlines announced 2,646 California furloughs, including:

  • 1,890 at Los Angeles International Airport
  • 378 at Oakland International Airport
  • 378 at San Francisco International Airport

Alaska Airlines announced 1,453 California furloughs, including:

  • 630 at Los Angeles International Airport
  • 603 at San Francisco International Airport
  • 172 at San Diego International Airport
  • 48 at San Jose International Airport

Horizon Air announced 370 permanent layoffs at Los Angeles International Airport as the company ceases operation of its ground-handling and cabin-cleaning operations at LAX.

Hawaiian Airlines announced 79 California furloughs, including:

  • 70 at Los Angeles International Airport
  • 4 at San Francisco International Airport
  • 2 at Sacramento International Airport
  • 2 at San Diego International Airport
  • 1 at San Jose International Airport

Revenue versus passenger safety

The cutbacks equate to fewer available flights, and airlines in the U.S. are facing a dilemma: They are looking to boost revenues to offset heavy losses incurred during the health crisis. But they have to balance that with the safety and comfort of passengers.

Most carriers require passengers to wear some form of face covering, with only a few not mandating the practice now recommended by the Centers for Disease Control when social distancing isn’t an option.

Alaska, Delta, Hawaiian and Jet Blue area are blocking middle seats, and Frontier has gone a step further by taking passengers’ temperatures, according to Business Insider.

A long wait

Will the air travel return to business as usual anytime soon? Not likely according to Goldman analyst Catherine O’Brien.

“We now expect traffic for the carriers in our coverage universe to recover to 2019 levels in 2023 as opposed to 2022,” O’Brien wrote in a recent briefing.

O’Brien figures corporate travel overseas will take even longer to recover.

Source: Orange County Register

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