Watch CBS News

As Airline Industry Loses $5 Billion A Month, Flight Attendants Fear Massive Furloughs Without Help From Congress

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Flight attendants across the country fear they'll land on the furlough list if Congress doesn't act by Thursday on proposals to extend financial support for the airline industry, to help pay for salaries and healthcare that's on the line for thousands of workers.

The potential doomsday for the airline industry is especially worrying for people in the Chicago area who work for United Airlines.

CBS 2 Morning Insider Lauren Victory explains the effect of being a hub city.

Chicago-based United Airlines has been making a splash in aviation news all month; from the surprise announcement that change fees will disappear to a new pilot program offering COVID-19 rapid tests for passengers.

The biggest industry headline of all remains on the horizon: massive losses that are set to translate into massive cuts.

"Collectively, the airlines have been losing $5 billion a month," CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg said.

Greenberg has been tracking the airline industry's economics for months, as the pandemic has taken a huge toll on air travel.

"At one point during the pandemic, United Airlines had more pilots then they were flying passengers. That should give you an idea what they were up against," he said.

Federal funding has been keeping United and other airlines afloat during the pandemic, but that particular batch of money expires Oct. 1.

Tens of thousands of flight attendants and other aviation workers have been warned they might not have a job come Thursday.

"For me, the uncertainty, I'm not gonna lie to you, this has been a really rough month," United flight attendant Jordy Comeaux said.

Comeaux landed what he calls his dream career at United in 2016. He's fighting not just for himself and his co-workers, but for consumers too.

"We have to turn in our badges, turn in everything, and what that does is really prolongs getting the airlines back up and running when we are back to normal," he said.

Another possible long-term effect: certain routes removed from lineup.

Why should people who aren't remotely worried about traveling anytime soon, or simply don't want to get on a plane right now, why should they pay attention to this?

"When you drop cities, airfares have nowhere to go but up, so when you are ready to fly, get your wallet out," Greenberg said.

And keep it out to help your neighbor.

"People who can't pay their grocery bills, people who can't pay their rent," Greenberg said.

"When losing healthcare, what am I supposed to do?" Comeaux said.

Arguably, hub cities like Chicago could get hit the worst, with thousands of United employees calling the city home.

Unions representing airline pilots, flight attendants, and other aviation employees have joined forces with airline CEOs to put pressure on Congress to pass a relief bill to help airlines avoid massive layoffs this fall.

United Airlines has made a last-minute deal with the Air Line Pilots Association to avoid thousands of furloughs for pilots. Still, United has said up to 12,000 employees could face job cuts if Congress fails to provide more aid to the airlines by a Thursday deadline. United said there is no set return date for employees facing involuntary furloughs.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.