Steve September 18, 2020
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“Hundreds of thousands of people will be out of work, and service to small communities will be discontinued,” if a new round of emergency airline funding is not approved, American Airlines Chief Executive Doug Parker said on NBC’s “TODAY” show Friday morning.

Moreover, the critical national infrastructure that the airline industry provides, that will be key to the nation’s economic recovery, could be severely affected by the sweeping industry cuts, he said.

“We want to make sure that when the economy recovers, we are here,” Parker said.

Parker’s comments come after emergency talks at the White House on Thursday, when executives from the major U.S. airlines met with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in a last-minute plea for additional funding in order to avoid tens of thousands of layoffs across the entire airline sector.

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“We airline CEOs are here on behalf of the people that work for us, keeping our country moving when our country is largely paralyzed,” Parker told reporters outside the White House after the meeting. “Without action, they’re going to be furloughed on Oct. 1 and it’s not fair. It’s not fair to them, it’s not fair to our country.”

American Airlines announced last month that it plans to cut about 19,000 workers in October, when government conditions that protected those jobs expire. It also said it would cancel almost 700 flights to 15 U.S. airports, starting in October, as travel demand remains low as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The 19,000 that will be furloughed understates the situation,” Parker told NBC’s Sheinelle Jones. “Another 12,000 will be taking leave. So that is hundreds of thousands of people who will be out of work” across the industry.

Airline executives urged lawmakers Thursday to move ahead with a $1.5 trillion aid package proposed by a congressional group. However, since the airline industry has already received $25 billion as part of an emergency Payroll Support Program, some lawmakers say it would not be fair to continue to bail out one particular industry at the cost of so many others that are also experiencing financial strain.

“The needs have only grown. Some of the needs for the small businesses, needs for restaurants, needs for transportation and the rest,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday.

The airline industry enjoyed record profits for a decade due to lower jet fuel prices and consolidation through a series of mergers. That ended with the coronavirus pandemic. American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines have all reported huge quarterly losses, their first in years. Airline executives have said the pandemic is the industry’s worst crisis, and have compared its impact to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Travel demand is down around 65 percent since the pandemic began, with videoconferences replacing business travel and leisure passengers putting off their vacations or choosing to drive. The airlines are looking for a six-month extension to their current deal while they work with unions and workers to limit employee separations.

“If House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was willing to move a bill to keep people from being laid off in the airline industry that is standalone, the president would certainly support it,” Meadows said Thursday.

Image: Lucy BaylyLucy Bayly

Lucy Bayly is the business editor for NBC News.

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