Nearly 13,500 American Airlines pilots and flight attendants agree to voluntary leave or early retirement

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Nearly 13,500 American Airlines pilots and flight attendants agree to voluntary leave or early retirement
The American Airlines pilot was arrested at Manchester Airport on suspicion of being drunk

(DALLAS NEWS) — More than a third of American Airlines pilots and flight attendants will take voluntary leave or retire in April or May, helping the Fort Worth-based carrier deal with an excess of workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company is offering voluntary leave to 4,800 pilots for April or May, while another 715 will be given early retirement with partial pay and full benefits. The figures include 1,500 pilots who were granted voluntary leave for April and were announced to employees last week. The numbers were disclosed in a letter to pilots from American late Thursday night.

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants said about 7,960 members signed up for voluntary leave or early retirement out of 25,300 total. About 7,200 flight attendants signed up for three-, six- or 12-month leaves and about 760 will take early retirement. Both leave and retirement would start in May.

“These men and women have been with our airline through thick and thin and have led us through so many important moments in our airline’s and our industry’s history,” the company said in the letter about pilots taking early retirement. “The suddenness of their departure is a bit unsettling as this wasn’t what any of us had planned.”

Pilots ages 62 to 65 were eligible for the early retirement package. Federal Aviation Administration rules mandate that pilots are not allowed to work for commercial airlines past age 65.

American had 13,800 pilots as of January.

The large number of pilots putting hands up to take leave should help the company as it dramatically scales back its flying schedule for May and June. Pilots were offered one-, three- and six-month voluntary leave options, but the company didn’t say how many would take each duration.

Pilots are already looking at flying at contractually minimum levels. Flight attendants are trying to coordinate who will staff flights in coming months and who will stay at home and get minimum pay.

At DFW International Airport and other hubs across the country, underutilized workers are sewing face masks for other American Airlines employees.

American has cut its schedule by 80% in May, including all but a few flights out of busy regions such as New York. While it hasn’t released its plans for June yet, it has also made severe cuts to international routes, which are highly coveted among crew members hoping to log more hours at once and visit the world.

American Airlines has applied for grants and loans from the federal government as part of its $50 billion stimulus package for commercial carriers in the CARES Act, but industry and government leaders are still wrangling over the stipulations to get assistance.

The law, which gives money to support worker payrolls, requires companies to maintain employment numbers through September in order to get the help. Still, airlines are working to cut their overall expenses, hence the voluntary leave and retirement options.

Other full-time and part-time employees are being cut down to minimum contractual hours.

American isn’t the only carrier looking for ways to cut costs. U.S. air carriers are looking to shed payroll and even temporarily lose workers as travel demand drops to levels not seen since the 1950s. Delta Air Lines said Friday that 35,000 of its employees have volunteered for some sort of leave.

Pilots are being offered plans that give them about two-thirds of their regular minimum pay, along with the option to buy health insurance and travel benefits. It’s more generous than voluntary leave plans offered to other union employees. Flight attendants, for example, will get paid for about 19 hours a month during leave, compared with their usual 70 minimum.

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