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Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic Causes United to Evaluate Our Collective Future

Date: May 6, 2020

At the end of last week, Oscar & Scott conducted a Townhall Meeting and addressed the employees of United Airlines to deliver an update on the current financial situation of our company and our industry as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.

Each provided their own perspective in the various questions that were presented by employees from around the system.  Laying out in the clearest terms the impact on the unprecedented reduction in demand for travel, they emphasized the need to continue to find ways to cut costs in an effort to reduce the overall “cash burn” during a period of time where little revenue is being generated.  At the same time, they told of our success ahead of our competitors in reducing the daily “cash burn” to the current $45M per day.  

Addressing the disproportionate number of employees to customers, employees were encouraged to consider the availability of Company Offered Leaves of Absence and, where feasible, to consider taking time away from work.  As they spoke to our long-term future, they painted a grim picture based on the expected adverse impact of the coronavirus on passenger demand. 

Both referred to the upcoming Voluntary Separation Programs (VSP) details of which are anticipated during the last couple of weeks of May.  They told us of an uncertain future where the working conditions we have enjoyed over the past couple of years are unlikely to continue based on expected reductions in block hours and the uncertainty of our route network.  They encouraged those with the ability to retire, to consider if the timing for their individual circumstances made retirement a viable option. 

Based on the representations made by Scott and Oscar during the Townhall Meeting, it should have come as no surprise when United’s Executive Vice President & Chief Operations Officer, Greg Hart, sent all United employees an email reiterating the information that Oscar and Scott had delivered.  In what appeared to be a well-choreographed release of communication, his message was followed by communication from each of the divisions’ senior leaders.  In our case, a notification from Senior Vice President of Inflight, John Slater, focused directly on the Inflight division of United Airlines, was sent to each of our corporate e-mail accounts.

The delivery of this information, via a coordinated message from our Senior leaders, was troubling for many of us.  It wasn’t so much what the message said.  Candidly, much of it has been told to us previously.  More unsettling, was the absence of specific information on what our future holds and management’s plan for our collective future.

Our future is uncertain and is currently the subject of anyone’s best guess. This is an unprecedented time and none of the corporate “play books” could ever have possibly contemplated a circumstance where Profit Sharing was paid in February and passenger demand completely evaporated in weeks immediately following issuance of the payment.

In an effort to project what our current situation means for the future of Inflight, John painted a picture of our future using terms unique to us as Flight Attendants: 

  • Reduced international flying.
  • Most of our schedules, 80%, will consist of domestic flying
  • Reduction in the number of lines
  • Reduction in language and International Purser qualified flying
  • Staffing of flights based on FAA minimums
  • An expectation of minimal passenger volumes

John attempted to explain how the available work will be assigned:

  • Reduced flying will result in a reduced number of schedules
  • Greater seniority will be required to hold lines
  • Reserve status set at a higher seniority – likely 20 years or more, depending on where you are based
  • Fewer lines built at the contractual maximum (88 hour average) – which allows time to be concentrated in fewer lines with the result being a further reduction in the need for Flight Attendants
  • Fewer Reserves = less flexibility and reduced opportunities for discretionary time away from work.

John went on to detail changes currently being evaluated and that might need to be made in the weeks and months ahead:

  • Changes to Inflight bases – as is done on an ongoing basis, all domicile locations will be evaluated for their financial efficacy. Given what is expected to be a significant reduction in the schedule of the airline, some base locations may now not make financial sense.  All base locations are under scrutiny.
  • Some bases may close while other bases may see significant reductions in size based on a reduced operational need or network flight schedule. 
  • A smaller domestic route structure will make commuting far more difficult, if not impossible.  The result may be the need to relocate and to establish an alternate residence especially for those who may now be faced with Reserve status.

All of this information, presented at one time, in one place and with a directness and candor not commonly seen by front line employees is unsettling, at best.  As management prepares for an uncertain future, we are seeing a transparent ‘transparency’.  Now, more than ever, management is painting the picture of an uncertain future because it will be here sooner than we might possibly imagine.  While we have the protections of the CARES Act, we will wake up tomorrow and it will be October. And, when these items are upon us is not the time for us to “start” thinking about our future. That time is now.

As your Union officers, we encourage you to begin to consider your uncertain future. Begin now to take the steps necessary to focus on solidifying your financial position. Avoid unnecessary spending and major purchases. Use this time to reduce or eliminate personal debt and, where possible, restructure it.  If the time is approaching where you may need to sign a new lease, consider other alternatives.

Take the time to review Sections 17 & 18 of our Contract to become familiar with timelines and protections offered should there be any base closures requiring a 90-day notice or any reduction in force at your current base location.

More importantly than ever, now is the time for all of us to come together.  Let’s help each other out where we can.  Avoid rumor and speculation and make a commitment to get your information from your official source of information, the Union’s website at www.unitedafa.org

Your Union will be working to do everything possible to reduce the adverse impact of any reduction in force brought about by circumstances beyond anyone’s control.  Be assured your leadership is ready, willing and able to engage with management to become part of the solution of saving our airline and our collective future.

Know that all of our Union resources are available to support you. This is a difficult and uncertain time.  Our Employee Assistance/Professional Standards peer professionals are available to support you and are only a telephone call away. Don’t hesitate to reach our if you need someone to listen or an objective point of view at 1 800 424 2406.

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