How United Avoided Pilot Furloughs

Other carriers are trying to negotiate similar agreements.

United Airlines
Industry pundits wonder if other carriers will offer solutions as bold as those offered by United Airlines.Tim Gouw/Unsplash

At this point in the year, it’s pretty widely known that pilot hiring at the airlines fell off a cliff during most of 2020 following the COVID-19 outbreak. Louis Smith said, “The 12 major US airlines combined hired only 98 pilots in September.” Smith is president of the Future and Active Pilot Advisors (FAPA). Aircraft deliveries at companies like Boeing and Airbus have also pretty much ground to a halt. With the hit to the economy, some US airlines began laying off thousands of employees once the federal government’s payroll protection program expired on October 1.

Despite these record-breaking declines, Boeing tried to offer some optimism in its recent 20-year Aerospace Forecast. A corollary to Boeing’s forecast is that some airlines tried some until-recently-unproven plans to avoid delivering pink slips to thousands of pilots a few weeks ago after exhausting measures such as early retirements and lengthy leaves of absence.

Smith said, "United Airlines and the Air Line Pilots Association managed to negotiate an agreement that prevented many aviators from being grounded. “United Airlines and ALPA reached an agreement to avoid pilot furloughs until June of 2021,” Smith explained. “The pilots ratified an agreement allowing reduced monthly pay guarantees apportioned into three groups: senior, middle & junior [seniority]. Pay rates stayed the same, but it is now a part-time cockpit job for the junior [United] pilots. It’s a significant deviation from past practices of furloughing in reverse seniority, so it’s clear management and union leaders believe the retirement of senior pilots and quick recovery from the pandemic-triggered demand collapse could contribute to a speedy turnaround.” Smith added “Delta and ALPA are still discussing a mitigation plan similar to United’s, while American and Allegiant have furloughed cockpit crewmembers.”

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