Airline CEOs plead with White House for more aid as over 30,000 face furloughs

"It's not fair to them, not fair to our country," American Airline's CEO said.

September 17, 2020, 3:53 PM

Major U.S. airline CEOs are pleading with White House and Congressional leaders for more federal aid as more than 30,000 U.S. airline employees face furloughs in two weeks following the expiration of relief provided by the CARES Act.

On Thursday the CEOs met with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. They are asking for an additional $25 billion in federal assistance that would prevent involuntary furloughs until the end of next March.

"It's not fair. It's not fair to them, not fair to our country, there's enormous bipartisan support, an extension of the payroll support program, which would keep those people employed. And the only problem we have is there's not a vehicle for getting it done," American Airlines CEO Doug Parker told reporters after the meeting.

PHOTO: Southwest Airlines Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly, center, speaks alongside other airline executives, following a meeting at the White House about extending economic assistance to the airlines, Sept. 17, 2020.
Southwest Airlines Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly, center, speaks alongside other airline executives, including, from left, United CEO Scott Kirby, Delta CEO Ed Bastian, Hawaiian President and CEO Peter Ingram, American Airlines chairman and CEO Doug Parker, and Airlines For America President and CEO Nicholas Calio, and Alaska President and CEO Brad Tilden, right, following a meeting at the White House about extending economic assistance to the airlines, Sept. 17, 2020.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

In addition to jobs, Parker is concerned that smaller communities in the U.S. will be underserved after the CARES Act expires and airlines are no longer barred from cutting off service to an entire market.

American Airlines announced late last month that it will temporarily stop flying to 15 cities in early October.

"So we're just here to plead with everyone involved to get to a COVID package before Oct. 1," Parker said. "On Oct. 1, those people are furloughed ... and small communities will lose service."

A group of 16 Senate Republicans and over 200 House members have expressed their support for an extension of the payroll support program, but they have yet to reach an agreement.

PHOTO: White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows speaks with reporters outside the White House, Sept. 17, 2020.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows speaks with reporters outside the White House, Sept. 17, 2020.
Alex Brandon/AP

On Wednesday, Parker and unions representing American Airlines employees sent a joint letter to Meadows, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the House and Senate leadership, warning them that there "is no time to waste" for the nearly 20,000 American employees facing furloughs.

"It's not just our team members who are counting on our nation's leaders to lead," they wrote, "but tens of thousands of workers, families and businesses across the country. Our conversations with each of you suggest a deal is within reach."

Air travel is still only a fraction of what it was in 2019, and experts predict it is unlikely they will return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.

PHOTO: Passengers walk through the new terminal at the Salt Lake City International Airport, Sept. 15, 2020, in Salt Lake City.
Passengers walk through the new terminal at the Salt Lake City International Airport, Sept. 15, 2020, in Salt Lake City.
Rick Bowmer/AP

United Airlines is only flying about a third of its schedule compared to last year.

"Our revenue is down even further in the third quarter and we expect it to be about 15% of what it was a year ago," United Airlines chief communications officer Josh Earnest told ABC News. "It makes sense that we're going to be a smaller company and a smaller airline after Oct. 1 in the midst of this pandemic."

Earnest said the key is making sure that they are ready for when they begin to see demand recover.

"We know it will, we just don't know when," he said.

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