By Alison Sider
Top executives at major airlines including American Airlines Group Inc., Southwest Airlines Co., and United Airlines Holdings Inc. will meet Thursday with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, people familiar with the matter said, as the companies make a final push for more government aid.
Airlines agreed not to furlough or lay off employees through the end of September in exchange for $25 billion as part of a broad pandemic relief package last spring. They hoped the funds would see them through the worst of the crisis, but six months later, travel demand is still hovering at around 30% of last year's levels and airlines expect recovery to be rocky and slow.
The restrictions of the first round of aid expire at the end of the month. Unless they receive another infusion of cash, airlines have said they would furlough tens of thousands of workers starting Oct. 1.
President Trump and lawmakers in both parties have said they support providing another $25 billion in aid to airlines so they can keep paying all their workers through next March. But Congress has been unable to come to terms on a broader relief package that could include the airline funds, and time is running out.
"We remain hopeful for an outcome that spares thousands of our colleagues and their families from what we regard as an avoidable fate," American Chief Executive Doug Parker and the leaders of the airline's unions wrote Wednesday in a joint letter to the White House, the Treasury, and Congressional leaders. American has said that some 19,000 of its employees will lose their jobs through furloughs and layoffs Oct. 1 without additional aid.
Airline executives and industry lobbyists have grown more pessimistic as Democrats and Republicans in Congress have remained at an impasse over basic questions like the overall size of the next relief package. Mr. Meadows has said previously that the administration was looking into executive orders that could assist the industry, but details have been murky.
More recently, there have been signs of movement. Mr. Trump, who has largely remained on the sidelines during the latest discussions, said in a tweet Wednesday that Republicans should seek a more expensive aid package -- something that could bring the two sides closer to an agreement.
Airlines and labor unions are continuing to plan for the possibility that no further aid is coming.
Southwest Airlines has said enough employees agreed to depart on their own that it won't need to furlough any this year. Delta Air Lines Inc. said this week that it had been able to save enough through voluntary departures, reductions in workers' hours and other measures that it won't cut any flight attendants, mechanics, or other front-line workers, with the exception of pilots. Currently the airline is planning to furlough over 1,900 pilots, though the company and the union are still discussing measures that could mitigate that figure.
United Airlines pilots are voting on whether to accept reductions in their work schedules, which translates into lower pay, in exchange for a guarantee that all their jobs would be safe until at least June. Union leaders endorsed the proposal Wednesday and members will vote at the end of this month, just days before the first swath of furloughs is due to go into effect.
"Hundreds of thousands of airline workers need the CARES Act extension, but with pilot furloughs just weeks away, we can't wait," Capt. Todd Insler, chairman of United's pilots union, said in a statement.
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