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August 26, 2020 2:15 PM, EDT

White House Weighs Airline Job Support in Case Stimulus Fails

A passenger wearing a mask at O'Hare International Airport in ChicagoA traveler wearing a mask passes through Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg News)

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White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said the Trump administration is examining executive actions to help airlines avoid employee furloughs should Congress fail to provide assistance in a new round of stimulus.

“If Congress is not going to work, this president is going to get to work and solve some problems,” Meadows said Aug. 26 at an event hosted by Politico. “Hopefully we can help the airlines and keep some of those employees from being furloughed.”

Meadows said he believed that assistance for the industry would require another legislative package but that the White House was “looking at other executive actions” and planned “a few” additional unilateral stimulus measures in addition to the package of executive actions signed by Trump last month.

American Airlines Group Inc. has said it will lay off about 19,000 employees on Oct. 1 if Congress doesn’t provide additional financial relief. The airline industry has been hobbled by the coronavirus outbreak, which upended travel plans for millions of Americans and overseas visitors alike.

Meadows said he had spoken with officials from American, as well as from United Airlines Holdings Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc.

Congress in March provided passenger airlines with more than $50 billion in federal aid, including a $25 billion payroll assistance program. However, after experiencing a roughly 70% drop in passenger traffic compared with a year earlier, the airline industry is asking for more government support.

Sara Nelson, president of the largest U.S. flight attendants union, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, tweeted Aug. 26 that it’s “good to see WH wants to restart talks.” But she said executive orders won’t preserve a “clean extension” of the payroll support program.

Debate has stalled in Congress over a six-month extension of the government’s payroll support for airlines, which would carry the same restrictions on workforce cuts. A new round of assistance would avert involuntary job cuts at American, the company has said.

“We have been in touch with the administration and we greatly appreciate their concern for our team members and their support for the aviation industry,” American Airlines said in a statement. “We will continue to work with the administration and our bipartisan supporters in Congress and hope to come to a resolution in a timely fashion.”

Graphic depicting airlines' financial troubles since the coronavirus pandemic

Frank Benenati, a spokesman for United, said the airline continues to seek an extension of the government payroll program.

Delta declined specific comment on any discussions with the White House. The carrier on Aug. 24 said it would furlough 1,941 pilots but hasn’t outlined involuntary changes for other employee groups.

Southwest Airlines Co. has said that enough employees took early retirement and leave that it will be able to avoid furloughs through the end of this year.

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