DENVER (CBS4) – As more than 16,000 United Airlines employees and flight attendants were notified of involuntary furloughs, the union representing them in Denver is calling on the public for help. For those unable, or unwilling, to take to the skies, they are encouraged to call on their congress representatives to extend the CARES Act and the payroll support programs.
Without those, or a significant return to the skies by customers, around 500 Denver-based employees could be without work or income by Oct. 1.
“Many of our most junior members are just being thrown in to turmoil,” said Ken Kyle, AFA Denver LEC President. “(Involuntary furlough) is, in essence, someone losing their job.”
Kyle told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas many of his fellow United flight attendants were notified of the company’s intent to furlough them for the foreseeable future, a result of the economic impacts of COVID-19. The travel industry, especially the airlines, was significantly hit by the pandemic.
Kyle said the staff with the fewest years under their belt were likely the ones going to be most impacted.
“The feelings of helplessness, frustration and anger seeps in there,” Kyle said. “So much is unknown about the duration of the pandemic.”
United Airlines was one of many airline companies that saw business plummet at the beginning of the pandemic.
“You’re in a closed metal tube with sometimes hundreds of strangers,” Kyle said. “Airline travel dropped to just about zero.”
Kyle said it was a mixture of fear of sitting next to strangers, mixed with fear from the public of traveling to a city which may have higher levels of COVID-19 cases.
The airlines have taken steps, including requiring masks and sanitizing planes. But, still, travel on United was reported to be only 30% what it was during the same time in 2019.
“On a good day it is a cyclical business. The pandemic has turned that on its ear,” Kyle said. “At the end of the day the company has a financial bottom line.”
Around 500-to-600 employees that Kyle represents will be impacted by the furlough, with an estimated 16,000 across the country. The airline is reportedly going to operate on only 10,000 of its previous 25,000 employees.
Kyle said most of those he represents still love working for United Airlines. But, without a significant return by passengers, those careers are in the hands of congress.
“We want United Airlines to survive so those who are furloughed have an airline to come back to, and a career to continue,” Kyle said.
The union is navigating their contractual rights with the airline to further protect the flight attendants. If you would like to help, you are encouraged to contact your lawmakers or fill out the petition.