United Airlines plans to furlough 16,370 employees Oct. 1 unless it gets more federal aid

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A United pilot gets a mask and does a thermal temperature check after arriving at work Thursday, June 18, 2020 at O'Hare International Airport. - Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS

CHICAGO — United Airlines plans to furlough 16,370 employees this fall as the coronavirus pandemic continues to take a toll on air travel.

In a memo to employees, Chicago-based United said additional funding from the federal government is “the one thing” that could prevent job cuts and delay the impact on employees until next year.

Airlines already received billions of dollars through the federal coronavirus aid package this spring, in exchange for agreeing to avoid layoffs before Oct. 1. But demand for travel remains sharply reduced, and United executives have said they don’t expect flying to return to normal until a vaccine is widely available.

The employees facing involuntary furloughs include 2,850 pilots, 6,920 flight attendants and 2,260 airport operations employees, including 1,683 based at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. The airline also is cutting 1,400 management jobs. The vast majority of the furloughs take effect Oct. 1.

The airline warned 36,000 employees their jobs were at risk earlier this summer. About 7,400 employees have left the company through early retirement or voluntary separations. Others are participating in a variety of voluntary leave or reduced schedule programs that give United the ability to call them back quickly if demand returns, Earnest said.

United said it still hopes to reduce the number of people facing furloughs through additional voluntary programs.

Last month, American Airlines said it will have 40,000 fewer workers this fall, including about 19,000 who were involuntarily furloughed or laid off.

About 23,500 employees took buyouts, retired early, or volunteered for a leave of absence, but it wasn’t enough to avoid cuts without more federal aid, American said.

Southwest Airlines said earlier this summer that it expects to avoid furloughs or layoffs through the end of the year after 16,900 employees took voluntary extended time off or left the company, but “will continue to plan for multiple weak scenarios and maintain our preparedness.”

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