American Airlines Warns It Has 8,000 More Attendants Than It Needs

American Airlines Group Inc. told flight attendants it has as many as 8,000 more of them than it needs, and said it would offer more leave programs and a voluntary separation package to try to minimize the need for furloughs.

The airline also will reduce staffing on international and cross-country flights to the minimum required by federal regulations, plus one flight attendant, it said in a letter to employees Wednesday. The company plans to close two flight-attendant bases and reduce the size of some others as it grapples with a collapse in travel demand because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“While we hope our customers continue returning to the skies in the coming months, the reality is that this pandemic has changed our business for years to come,” Jill Surdek, American’s senior vice president of flight service, said in the letter. “Things like less international flying, lower crew complements and fewer crew bases are part of our new reality.”

The latest moves highlight the process most carriers are working through to slash labor costs -- their largest expense -- and shrink operations as the coronavirus crisis collapses U.S. passenger counts to about a fourth of pre-pandemic levels. American already has cut management and administrative jobs and offered pilots early retirement and voluntary leave programs.

Union Objections

“The news announced today is devastating, especially to those flight attendants who may be furloughed or who are in a base that is closing,” said the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which also said it will fight the planned staffing cut on some flights.

Demand has improved from near zero in late March and April, primarily as consumers travel to vacation spots, and American will fly 40% of its 2019 system-wide capacity in July, including 55% of last year’s domestic schedule and about 20% of international. The carrier will reduce its summer 2021 international capacity by 25% from pre-pandemic levels on an expected slow recovery in travel outside of the U.S.

“Please know we’re doing everything possible to mitigate or potentially eliminate the need for involuntary reductions -– while keeping our costs manageable,” Surdek said in the letter to flight attendants.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based airline said it’s finalizing new early-out and leave programs and should have details “in coming weeks.”

American will close flight attendant bases in St. Louis and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, early next year. The largest reductions among remaining bases are expected in Phoenix, Miami and Los Angeles, the airline said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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