United Airlines officials announced on Wednesday that the company will send layoff notices to 36,000 of its employees. That number accounts for nearly half of the airline's US staff. Company officials said the 36,000 number was a worst case scenario and that they hope United can curb some of the layoffs by offering early retirement to qualifying employees. The Associated Press reported that the cuts will include 15,000 flight attendants, 11,000 customer service and gate agents, 5,500 maintenance workers and 2,250 pilots. Layoffs could begin as early as 1 October. On top of the staff cuts, United also plans to lay off 1,300 management and support staff, also on 1 October. Including its international staff, United employs 95,000 people.
The layoffs at United are the latest in a long line of hits the industry has taken since the arrival of the coronavirus. Air travel decreased by 95 per cent from the beginning of March until the middle of April. By the end of April, the industry began recovering slowly, but the overall number of US air travellers compared to the same time last year is still down 70 per cent. In a securities filing the company posted last Tuesday, United officials predicted that the demand for air travel would be low until "a widely accepted treatment and/or vaccine for Covid-19 is available".
The airline said it will evaluate and cancel flights on a 60-day basis until the industry rebounds. Adding to United's woes, two of its largest hubs – at Chicago O'Hare Airport and Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey – are in states that are requiring travellers from 15 states to self-quarantine for two weeks after they arrive. United is one of the major US corporations that received funding through the Paycheck Protection Program the federal government enacted to help employers keep their staff during the pandemic.