In this pandemic-afflicted economic climate, United Airlines told nearly half its employees: Fasten your seatbelts—you may be in for a rough landing. The airline warned 36,000 employees that they might be furloughed in October. Preparation for this drastic measure is a sign of how things are in the airline industry—not good.
In March, when the first wave of the coronavirus broke in the United States, air travel took a nosedive. It plummeted 95% from March 1 to mid-April and then began a slow recovery. But travel bans to many countries stalled international flights. Videoconferences replaced in-person meetings. These changes, inconvenient in themselves, crippled the airline industry.
Of course, United Airlines doesn’t want to lay off 36,000 employees. The 60-day warning is meant to prepare workers for the worst-case scenario. However, Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, says the frightening numbers are “the most honest assessment we’ve seen on the state of the industry.”
United Airlines is nearly out of options. It has already received $25 billion in federal aid to keep employees on its payroll. The flight attendants’ union and other labor unions are lobbying Congress for an additional $25 billion to protect jobs through March 2021. But funds seem unlikely to come. United cut spending and convinced employees to go on unpaid leave to save money. Still, the company is reportedly losing $40 million dollars per day.
Layoffs may be the only option to keep the company afloat. As many as 45% of United’s U.S. employees could lose their jobs. Most of these employees are in labor unions. They would have the right to be reinstated if the company’s position improved.
“This crisis dwarfs all others in aviation history, and there’s no end in sight,” says Sara Nelson. This troubling situation demonstrates how different sectors of the economy affect each other, sometimes leading things from bad to worse. A steep drop in air travel leads to increased unemployment, which has rippling effect as less money is spent into the economy. As other businesses cut their budgets, they also drop all non-critical travel. That further drives the airlines down.
The hope for the airline industry is that conditions will change to revamp the broader economy. That could allow airlines to get off the ground again as people can afford to fly more. How good it is to hope in a kingdom that is not subject to the shifting currents of this world! Hebrews 13:8 assures us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” He is the King and His kingdom will have no end.