Airline furloughs begin as federal pandemic relief expires

Thousands of airline employees are getting furloughed while the companies wait to see if they will get more money from taxpayers

Airlines and their unions are lobbying for money to keep workers on airline payrolls for six more months, through next March. They received $25 billion, mostly in cash, to pay employees through Sept. 30 in exchange for avoiding layoffs or furloughs.

Airlines have already shrunk by persuading tens of thousands of employees to volunteer for early retirement or buyouts — Southwest’s workforce shrank by 28%. Even with those departures, however, the airlines still have more employees than they need because air travel is down nearly 70% from a year ago.

The largest four U.S. airlines have lost more than $10 billion between them since the pandemic started.