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American Airlines

Airline Payrolls Dropped 20,000 Employees in Mid-May 2020

Airline Payrolls Dropped 20,000 Employees in Mid-May 2020
Joe Cortez

American carriers are starting to drastically trim their payrolls during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the bottom could still be ahead. According to U.S. Department of Transportation Data, over 20,000 employees were released from airlines between April and May 2020, and 42,000 less than the same time in May 2020.

Although major American carriers are warning of imminent furloughs and layoffs, over 20,000 employees have already exited the aviation industry. The latest data from the U.S. Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) shows as of Mid-May 2020, airlines employed around 697,000 people – down from a previous high of 755,000.

Total Airline Employment Close to Record Low

Across all airlines, including passenger carriers, national carriers, and large to mid-sized regional carriers, employment numbers continued a sharp decline started in March 2020. From a pre-COVID-19 pandemic high of around 755,000 employees, the most recent report shows around 697,000 employees remain on airline payrolls. This drop reflects 42,282 lost jobs compared to May 2019.

U.S. Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Additionally, the data shows over 58,000 people have left the aviation sector from the most recent high in January 2020. Currently, the aviation sector employees 588,802 full-time workers, and over 107,000 part-time workers.

While the numbers are low, it has yet to reach the most recent low in April 2014, when airlines employed a combined workforce of 694,182. The next update on airline employment is scheduled for Aug. 6, 2020 – roughly two months before airlines are allowed to furlough employees under the CARES Act.

Bottom Could Be Looming for Airline Employment

Despite the new recent lows, the aviation industry may not have hit an employment basement yet. All three legacy airlines – American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines – warned employees that they may be overstaffed and are on track to start involuntarily separating workers from their positions.

According to the BTS data, American employed a total of 107,346 people, with 96,062 on as full-time employees. The Fort Worth-based carrier said they could be overstaffed by as many as 20,000 people, including 8,000 flight attendants. Starting Oct. 1, the airline will reduce in-flight crew to the minimum allowed by the Federal Aviation Administration, plus one.

United Airlines had a total workforce of 83,723, with 76,053 on as full-time employees. Earlier in July, the airline sent furlough notices to over 30,000 employees, with final layoff decisions expected to come in August 2020.

Delta Air Lines has a much leaner staff of 50,984 employees, including 47,581 full-time workers. Although the airline has not publicly declared October layoffs, airline chief executive Ed Basitan is reportedly asking employees to consider taking a voluntary buyout package to reduce the number of displaced workers.

Meanwhile, labor unions are asking Congress to add more money to the Payroll Support Program, in order to protect jobs. The most recent campaign comes from the Air Line Pilots Association, which started a letter-writing drive to ask local representatives to double the amount of money dedicated to aviation workers.

View Comments (2)


  1. edgewood49

    July 13, 2020 at 6:31 pm

    Joe, continued taxpayer support in the form of PPP etc is totally unsustainable sorry but it is. This thing is going to be around for a long long time

  2. Redheadpeter

    July 15, 2020 at 4:25 am

    “involuntarily separating workers from their positions” is proibably the most far-fetched euphemism for ‘being fired’ I ever saw

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