United and Qatar airlines warn of major job cuts

US and Gulf airlines both considering substantial redundancies because of the dramatic impact of the coronavirus on global air travel

by AFP
United and Qatar airlines warn of major job cuts
Qatar Airways is now flying to just 35 destinations, down from 170 before the pandemic hammered air travel. AFP photo.

United Airlines and Qatar Airways are both considering substantial redundancies because of the dramatic impact of the coronavirus on global air travel.

United plans to lay off about 30% of its executives, according to a document seen by AFP on Tuesday. That would amount to about 3,450 jobs. It is also planning to eliminate thousands of pilot positions, the US carrier's operations director Greg Hart said in a memo.

"Unfortunately, in the coming weeks and months we expect to be faced with the need to right size our frontline workforce to match demand," Hart wrote, without giving further details.

A source familiar with the matter said a third of United's 12,250 pilots may have to leave the company. 

Other airlines, including Delta, also have warned of coming job cuts.

United received about $5 billion from the US government as part of a massive $2.2 trillion stimulus package intended to help industries hit by the coronavirus downturn.

Under the terms of the funding, the airline must not make layoffs before September 30, but the company has made clear that once that date passes, cuts are necessary.

"Even with a federal government grant that covers a portion of our payroll expense through September 30, we anticipate spending billions of dollars more than we take in for the next several months, while continuing to employ 100% of our workforce. That's not sustainable for any company," Hart wrote in his memo.

In another memo, United's human resources director Kate Gebo said workers facing layoff will be informed by mid-July. Employees leaving voluntarily will get a severance package, part of which will be in cash, but that offer would not be available after October 1, she said.

The company has been forced to cancel 90% of its flights, and Gebo encouraged executives to take 20 days of unpaid leave between mid-May and the end of September, and asked some to work four-day weeks.

"The reality we are faced with, especially heading into what would normally be our busiest time of year, is daunting to say the least," Gebo said.

Qatar down to 35 destinations

Meanwhile, Qatar Airways has warned its employees of "substantial" redundancies amid the collapse in demand for air travel, according to a separate internal memo. The Gulf airline, which flew to more than 170 destinations with 234 aircraft as of March, has been hit by airport closures and travel bans imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19.

The International Air Transport Association warned last month that air traffic in the Middle East and North Africa would plummet by more than half this year.

"The truth is, we simply cannot sustain the current staff numbers and will need to make a substantial number of jobs redundant – inclusive of cabin crew," Qatar Airways chief executive Abkar al-Baker wrote in a memo to cabin crew dated Monday.

The note did not specify how many of its more than 30,000 staff were at risk of redundancy, although the airline has had to slash its passenger services to just 35 destinations.

"The unparallelled impact on our industry has caused significant challenges for all airlines and we must act decisively to protect the future of our business," the airline said in a statement.

"As a result, Qatar Airways can confirm that the airline will make a number of roles redundant due to the impact of Covid-19. Any job loss is regrettable and we will be working closely with all affected employees to offer our full support during this difficult time."

AFP