United Airlines officials say the carrier will furlough 913 employees at Denver International Airport this fall, part of 16,370 job cuts company-wide that could take effect as soon as Oct. 1.
The 913 figure is more than 1/8th of the roughly 7,000 people who worked for United in Denver as of earlier this year, but is far fewer than the 2,820 cuts the airline was considering in the city when it first announced plans to furlough employees in July.
At that time, United leadership filed employment notices with state labor departments across the country alerting them that as many as 36,000 of the airline’s U.S. employees might be involuntarily furloughed after Oct. 1, the day after federal payroll support for the airline industry authorized through the CARES Act runs out.
The COVID-19 pandemic has pummeled airline traffic through the spring and summer. United’s July schedule was down 75% compared to 2019.
The significantly lower furlough numbers the airline released this week don’t mean United is faring better in the face of the pandemic. The airline’s September schedule is down 63% compared to last year, a company official said Friday.
It’s more a sign that the company’s efforts to work with its employee unions on programs that would encourage workers to leave voluntarily are succeeding. In a July 21 news release, United highlight that more than 6,000 workers had opted for a voluntary separation package that included ongoing flight benefits and pay through Nov. 30.
In a letter sent to employees Thursday, United leadership highlighted efforts to cut costs, raise money and find other avenues to keep the airline afloat amid COVID, but acknowledged that indefinite furloughs would be necessary.
“The pandemic has drawn us in deeper and lasted longer than almost any expert predicted, and in an environment where travel demand is so depressed, United cannot continue with staffing levels that significantly exceed the schedule we fly,” the letter read.
United is not the only airline planning to cut jobs at DIA in the months ahead. Denver-based Frontier Airlines plans to furlough 398 DIA employees after Oct. 1, and American Airlines has filed notice that it will do the same to 107 employees at the airport in addition to dismissing two people.
Cash-rich Southwest Airlines has announced plans to keep all its workers on payroll through the end of the year.
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