Southwest says 28% of workers seek leaves or exits; 2,235 Delta pilots take exit deal

FILE PHOTO: Air travelers wear face masks waiting to board a Southwest Airlines flight as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, at Oakland International airport in Oakland, California, U.S., April 9, 2020.

CHICAGO: Southwest Airlines told employees on Monday (Jul 20) that 16,895 of its roughly 60,900 workforce have volunteered for long-term separation or early retirement deals, according to a message from Chief Executive Gary Kelly that was shared with Reuters.

US airlines, which received a US$25 billion bailout in March to cover payroll for six months, are trying to encourage employees to accept voluntary departure deals in the hope of avoiding involuntary furloughs in the fall, when the federal stimulus funds run out.

They had hoped air travel demand would recover by October, but have warned that bookings that began to rise in May and June from dramatic lows in April have leveled off or even fallen due to a rise in COVID-19 cases in some parts of the country.

Around 4,400 Southwest employees have applied for early retirement and Kelly said the company expects to grant all of those requests while it weighs close to 12,500 requests for an extended time off package against the needs of different departments.

One person who reviewed the numbers said they represented around 24 per cent of Southwest pilots and 33 per cent of flight attendants.

FILE PHOTO: Delta Air Lines passenger planes are seen parked due to flight reductions made to slow the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Birmingham, Alabama, U.S. March 25, 2020.

Meanwhile, the union representing Delta pilots said 2,235 pilots had volunteered for a voluntary early out program ahead of a Sunday deadline, up from 1,700 on Friday, when Delta told pilots it would avoid furloughs if they agreed to reduced guaranteed minimum pay.

A Delta spokesman told Reuters: “Delta’s Voluntary Early Out Program window for pilots closed on Sunday night with 2,234 pilot electing to retire early from the airline. This is meaningful progress as we look to mitigate furloughs and our teams are hard at work to determine next steps and evaluate how the pilot early retirement may affect Delta’s overall pilot staffing outlook.”

Southwest declined to comment ahead of its quarterly results publication on Thursday.

There is a period for employees at both Delta and Southwest to rescind their decision, so the numbers are not final.

American Airlines and United Airlines have also offered voluntary departure deals while together sending more than 60,000 warnings of potential furloughs to their employees, even as discussions heat up in Washington for a new round of government bailouts.

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