Despite Congress haggling over the bill for months, a bipartisan agreement was reached last week that includes a provision to help fund US airlines to the tune of $15 billion for payroll support. With funding now guaranteed until at least March 2021, American carriers can start to bring back workers that were furloughed in October when a previous round of funding expired.
When speaking about the bill in a statement shared by the Voice of America (VOA), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of California said:
“The signing of the bipartisan, bicameral coronavirus relief legislation is welcome news for the fourteen million Americans who just lost the lifeline of unemployment benefits on Christmas Weekend, and for the millions more struggling to stay afloat during this historic pandemic and economic crisis.”
Senate Majority Leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, poured praise on Trump for preventing a government shutdown when the nation could ill afford to see it happen. Along with the money, airlines will receive, every taxpaying American and their children will get a check for $600. President Trump had called for the individual checks to be at least $2,000, and despite democratic politicians agreeing with him, people in his own Republican Party were dead against the idea. In the end, Trump backed down and signed the bill.
Now knowing that help is on its way, airlines can start recalling staff back to the workplace. When speaking about the possible aid last week, the VOA quotes United Airlines as saying that it “intends to offer temporary employment to thousands of our team members” who were laid off once the previous round of payroll protection expired. In the statement, United did not say when it thought that paychecks would resume.
“Those employees who are eligible under the terms of the PSP (Payroll Support Program) extension can temporarily come back to United through March 2021,” United CEO Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart wrote in a message to employees. “This is certainly good news for our economy, our industry, and our airline — but it’s especially good news for those who have been without a paycheck, and we can’t wait to welcome them back.”
The friendly skies airline furloughed around 13,000 workers at the end of September while also cutting corporate jobs and salaries. Airline CEOs are under no illusion that the first quarter of 2021 will remain tough for the industry. With bookings still way down, industry insiders believe that the reinstated jobs will only be temporary without further aid. Since the coronavirus pandemic first reared its ugly head in the spring, airlines have recorded multibillion-dollar losses as they look to keep afloat until the demand for air travel returns.
Like the $25 billion airlines received in March, the federal aid comes with the stipulation that airlines will not be able to layoff workers until April 1 and that they will also not be allowed to cut employee’s hours or pay. Airlines would also have to agree to forgo paying out dividends until at least April 1, 2022, and put pay caps on top executive salaries.
With COVID-19 vaccines already being given out, there is a brief glimmer of hope that we could see some recovery in the summer as people who have spent the past year couped up look to get away on vacation. Airlines must have the pilots, flight attendants, and ground staff in place ready to go if the demand is there. This is why working on a further aid package for the airline industry will be a priority for the incoming Bidden administration.
Biden and the Democrats’ ability to pass a new relief bill depends very much on which party controls the Senate after two January runoff elections in Georgia scheduled for January 5.
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