With no further aid on the table, U.S. airlines began furloughing tens of thousands of employees Thursday.
Denver International Airport is among those airports that will feel the impact. Three major airlines plan to furlough or lay off more than 3,400 workers at DIA during the next two months, according to notices filed with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
United, which operates a major hub at DIA, told the state agency in July that it would temporarily lay off 2,820 employees by the end of November and has since amended that filing to add 128 employees to its layoff total. The Chicago-based carrier said the cuts were needed as a result of a sharp decline in travel and bookings since the COVID-19 pandemic triggered widespread restrictions across the nation on meetings and other gatherings.
Denver-based Frontier Airlines notified the state it planned to furlough 398 employees during the next two weeks, and American Airlines said in its notice that it planned to lay off two employees and furlough 107 others at DIA, also during the next two weeks. No other airlines have filed layoff notices with the department since the pandemic began.
None of the notices mention cuts at the Colorado Springs Airport Regional carriers operate flights for the major carriers at the Springs Airport, so the national layoffs that began Thursday likely will not happen locally. The regional carriers each cut a small number of jobs in April as travel tanked during the state’s stay-at-home order, said Greg Phillips, director of aviation for the city of Colorado Springs.
Delta and Southwest, which entered the pandemic in stronger financial shape than American and United, have shed thousands of jobs through voluntary departures but don’t plan to lay off workers immediately, according to the Associated Press.
American Airlines and United Airlines said they would begin to furlough 32,000 employees after lawmakers and the White House failed to agree on a broad pandemic relief package that includes more federal aid for airlines. The passenger airlines and their labor unions are lobbying for taxpayer money to pay workers for six more months, through next March. Their request is tied up in stalled negotiations over a larger pandemic relief measure.
In March, Congress approved $25 billion mostly in grants to cover passenger airline payrolls through September and up to another $25 billion in loans that the airlines could use for other purposes. Late Tuesday, the Treasury Department said it completed loans to seven major airlines: American, United, Alaska, JetBlue, Frontier, Hawaiian and SkyWest, which operates a maintenance facility at the Colorado Springs Airport.
American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said that if Washington comes up with a deal with $25 billion for airlines “over the next few days,” the company will reverse 19,000 furloughs that were set to begin Thursday and recall the workers.
United said the impasse forced it to furlough 13,000 workers. United said it told leaders in the Trump administration and Congress that if payroll aid is approved in the next few days, it too could undo the furloughs.
The layoffs come as passenger numbers are off dramatically at DIA and the Colorado Springs Airport. Officials at both airports have said passenger numbers might not fully recover until 2023.
Through August, passenger totals at DIA were down 53.2% from the same period a year earlier to 21.5 million, and numbers are similar for September, DIA spokeswoman Alex Renteria said Thursday.
The airport is forecasting next year’s passenger numbers will rebound somewhat but still be down 40% from 2019’s total of 69 million. With airlines cutting flights to match the decreased demand, the number of daily flights at DIA for the week of Sept. 13-19 was down 38.3% from a year earlier to 1,090, but seat capacity was down just 29%, Renteria said.
To cope with declining numbers, Renteria said DIA deferred three months of rent for airlines and took other steps to “reduce the financial impact” of the pandemic on restaurants, rental car vendors and retailers at the airport.
Passenger numbers in Colorado Springs through August were down 56.1% to 472,835 and are expected to finish the year near the same level of decline.
The local airport is expecting passenger numbers to recover somewhat next year but still be down nearly 52%. The number of daily flights in Colorado Springs is down by about half from a year ago to 16.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.