Key lawmaker pushes US airways to give an explanation for employee shortages and flight delays after billions in federal help


Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington and chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, wrote Friday to the CEOs of American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, Republic, and Allegiant airways, asking them about experiences of pilot, flight attendant and employee shortages and to account for using the $54 billion in federal aid to stay staff hired that used to be contingent on no layoffs.

Cantwell wrote that she is “concerned that, at best,” the airways “poorly managed its marketing of flights and workforce as more people are traveling, and, at worst, it failed to meet the intent of tax payer funding and prepare for the surge in travel that we are now witnessing.”

The senator additionally asked a personnel briefing from every of the airways through the top of the month.

The airline business used to be hit laborious throughout the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic remaining 12 months, as trip restrictions have been enforced and Americans have been inspired to stick house to gradual the unfold of the virus. Airlines considerably reduce their flight schedules because of the drop in trip call for necessarily at 0.

At the business’s request, Congress created the Payroll Support Program to offer loans to airways to beef up the pay and advantages of staff. The 3 rounds of billions in federal payroll beef up for the airline business barred layoffs, involuntary furloughs or pay cuts for workers.

Airlines, then again, furloughed workers throughout lapses within the federal help. To additional reduce prices, airways presented voluntary buyout and early retirement applications, and asked that staff take voluntary unpaid or low-paid leaves. The airline business nonetheless ended the 12 months with massive file losses.

Now, with majority of Americans vaccinated and the rustic reopening, recreational flights and bookings are returning to pre-pandemic ranges and airways have begun calling again staff who were on voluntary go away.

American introduced in past due June that may trim 1% of flights from its agenda thru mid-July, bringing up dangerous climate and staffing shortages.

Southwest remaining month canceled or not on time 1000’s of flights — probably the most of any US airline — announcing that its schedules and staffing have additionally been thrown off through the rising call for and climate.

“This reported workforce shortage runs counter to the objective and spirit of the (Payroll Support Program), which was to enable airlines to endure the pandemic and keep employees on payroll so that the industry was positioned to capture a rebound in demand,” Cantwell wrote in her letters. She added that the “disruptions in air travel have harmed U.S. consumers just as the American economy is rebounding, and the existing airline workforce is being placed under immense pressure to meet demand.”

CNN has reached out to the airways for remark at the letters.

In a observation to CNN, Southwest stated it’s “staffed for what we’re flying and we’re flying for what we staffed.”

Southwest used to be ready to keep away from involuntary layoffs and furloughs that different airways imposed remaining 12 months, after a few of its workers took unpaid voluntary go away, buyouts and early retirement applications. As bookings and trip ramp up, Southwest in April recalled all flight attendants and a few pilots who have been on voluntary leaves to go back to paintings this summer season.

“We’re fortunate to be the only major airline to maintain service at every U.S. airport we served prior to the pandemic, and to have utilized Congressional Payroll Support to maintain staffing (continuing a 50-year history of no layoffs, no furloughs) to support both that continual service, and the flight schedule we built for the summer of 2021,” the corporate stated.

The corporate reiterated that remaining month’s “unusually high number” of flight delays and cancellations used to be because of “prolonged and widespread thunderstorms, infrastructure challenges and unrelated challenges with technology.”

CNN’s Chris Isidore, Rashard Rose, Gregory Wallace and Pete Muntean contributed to this file.

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