What to Know
- United Airlines has announced a cut domestic and international flights, as well as a hiring freeze amid the global coronavirus outbreak that has killed thousands and sickened even more.
- United announced it will cut its international flights scheduled for next month by 20% and those in the United States and Canada by 10%. The cuts will likely continue in May.
- The airlines also announced a hiring freeze through June 30. It will also be postponing merit salary increases from May until July
United Airlines has announced a cut domestic and international flights, as well as a hiring freeze amid the global coronavirus outbreak that has killed thousands and sickened even more.
United announced it will cut its international flights scheduled for next month by 20% and those in the United States and Canada by 10%. The cuts will likely continue in May.
The news could impact many locally given that Newark Liberty International Airport is a United Airlines hub that employs people from the tri-state area.
United is not the only airline impacted by COVID-19 -- around the world airlines have cut back on capacity.
While airlines flying to Asian countries suffered the first wave of cancellations, carriers heading in and out of Europe and North America have followed close behind as the outbreak continues. With the evolving nature of the outbreak, some airlines have increased their flight cancellations, and have even begun waiving fees for those who previously booked flights to high-risk countries.
In United's case, the Chicago-based airline will waive change fees for any bookings — domestic and international — made between March 3 and March 31, 2020. This, after initially saying only some flights were eligible to be changed for free.
Additionally, United has suspended all flights to China until April 30. Flights to Japan from Los Angeles and Houston are canceled from March 8 to April 24, and from Chicago to Japan's Narita International Airport from March 8-27. Flights from Narita, Newark, New Jersey, San Francisco and Kansai International Airport in Osaka, Japan, have been reduced to five times weekly for the month of April.
United also announced changes to manage cost structure that will impact employees.
The airlines announced a hiring freeze through June 30. It will also be postponing merit salary increases from May until July. Additionally, the airlines is offering the opportunity for employees to apply for a voluntary unpaid leave of absence, which is a company-offered leave.
The news follows two of the best operational months in the history of United Airlines: January and February.
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO (AFA) which represents 50,000 Flight Attendants at 20 airlines including United, released the following statement after United Airlines announced its flight reductions: “United Airlines is taking a responsible approach to address the impact of COVID-19 on air travel. We want to be very clear that the airline has worked with our union from the start to implement safety and health measures to ensure crew and passengers are safe. We encourage the public to continue to fly with confidence."
The statement goes on to say: “Our Flight Attendant contract includes pay protections for Flight Attendants who are experiencing a loss or change of schedule. The most recent schedule reduction will be managed through contractual special leaves of absence. The contract provides that Flight Attendants retain medical and other benefits the same as active employees, and Flight Attendants continue to accrue seniority during the leave of absence. The special leaves will be open for bid and are awarded in seniority order."
News 4 reached out to additional employee unions for comment but has not immediately heard back.
Later on Wednesday, JetBlue similarly said they would be reducing hiring for some positions, and may offer voluntary time off programs. They also would put forward an initial capacity reduction on their flights of around five percent "in the near term," a result of a decrease in demand for flights. The company said more reductions could follow.
The novel coronavirus 2019 outbreak, known as COVID-19, which originated in China, has spread to dozens of countries, prompting large companies to scale back on business travel. The new virus has infected more than 90,000 people globally and caused over 3,100 deaths. Officials have found more than 100 cases and at least nine deaths in the U.S.