Furloughed American, United Airlines workers anxiously await CARES Act extension

Michelle Gallardo Image
Thursday, October 1, 2020
Furloughed airline workers anxiously await CARES Act extension
"Since I was a little boy, my dream job was to be a flight attendant," said Jordy Comeaux, a newly-unemployed Chicago-based United Airlines employee.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- More than 30,000 airline workers lost their jobs in just one day. And it didn't need to happen, if only Congress and the Trump administration had agreed to an extension of the CARES ACT that has allowed airlines to keep paying its employees.

RELATED: Flight attendant delivers heartfelt message amid furloughs

An American Airlines flight attendant delivers an emotional message to passengers and crew after the company announced 19,000 furloughs.

These jobs can come back, but the question is: how long can these newly-unemployed airlines workers hold on without a paycheck?

In Chicago alone, there are over 850 fewer flight attendants flying United's not-so-friendly skies now. They are but a handful of the over 13,000 people United had to put on furlough - and 19,000 for American Airlines - as the deadline for Congress to extend the Payroll Support Program for the airline industry came and went.

"Since I was a little boy, my dream job was to be a flight attendant," said Jordy Comeaux, a United AFA flight attendant for nearly five years. Chicago-based Comeaux is one of the newly unemployed.

"I pulled all the money out that I had in savings. It's sitting there and I'm doing my best. I think I can get through a month," Comeaux said. "My husband is a home health nurse and his hours have been cut as well."

The layoffs are far smaller than originally anticipated as both United and American reached agreements with the unions that allow some of their employees to keep their benefits, even while they have no guaranteed income. With revenue down over 80% and airlines running approximately 30% of their regular schedules, the call is for a six-month extension of federal aid in the hopes that by then, a vaccine for COVID-19 will be found, restoring confidence to the travel industry.

"We're still holding hope. It's not too late. The airlines have promised they will bring people back if Congress passes the legislation that's needed," said Ken Diaz, with the Association of Flight Attendants. "Talk is cheap. Words are cheap. Everybody can't say 'we want to get it done' and no one gets it done."

Southwest and Delta have so far avoided layoffs, mostly through voluntary separations. As for Congress and the administration, there's still hope that an agreement might be reached within the next week or so. The question is: how many of those jobs lost today will come back?