DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Associations representing tens of thousands of pilots and flight attendants for American Airlines welcomed federal help Tuesday as the COVID-19 virus caused severe reductions in passengers flying commercial airlines.
The airlines have requested $50 billion in assistance from the federal government, and during a briefing at the White House Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump said he wanted to help.
“With this invisible enemy, we don’t want airlines going out of business, we don’t want people losing their jobs or not having money to live,” he said.
Lori Bassani, President of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, or APFA said, “This is unlike anything we’ve ever seen.”
During the White House briefing, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the situation was “worse than 9/11 for the airline industry.”
Bassani, whose union represents 28,000 flight attendants at American, said the airlines need the assistance from the government.
“That’s for sure. I know they asked for that after 9/11 as well. We are in more dire circumstances than that. Of course, we support financial support for the airlines during these terrible crises.”
Dennis Tajer, a 737 Captain for American is also a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association representing 15,000 pilots for American.
He said, “We are very pleased to hear the President, he spoke yesterday and again today, affirming the importance of the airline industry. It’s going to be critical, not only to get through this, but in the recovery of it.”
Both Tajer and Bassani praised airline management for working well with their associations.
She said they are doing all they can to avoid furloughs and layoffs.
On Tuesday afternoon, American announced its offered voluntary, unpaid leaves and early retirements for most union groups.
Bassani said, “We should know within a week how many people will take those flexible leaves and extended and long term leaves
and probably even leave the company early.”
She said they’ve also negotiated pay protections above what’s in their contracts.
Aside from pay and leave, flight attendants Bassani said they’re also concerned about their health.
The airline has provided masks, gloves, and wipes, but has only so many to go around. “It’s been very difficult to get the amount of masks and gloves that we need. What we do have, American has procured for us. But we don’t have enough and we need some help on that.”
American Airlines told flight attendants Tuesday that the airline has been working for weeks to get many sani wipes for the flight attendants as possible and that the airline is now adding wipes to all aircraft departing hubs.
American has previously announced its international flight capacity has dropped 75% year to year between March 16th and May 6th, and that its domestic capacity will drop by 20% in April and by 30% in May.
Southwest Airlines has said its available seat miles will drop by at least 20% between April 14 and June 5.
The airline has also announced its offered voluntary leave options for employees, instituted a hiring freeze, and that it has borrowed $1 billion.
CBS 11 reached out to both unions representing flight attendants and pilots for Southwest Airlines seeking an interview, but they were unavailable earlier in the day.
But one area of concern by the pilots union is that given the new CDC guidelines and rules by various cities and states, their ability to find food may become more challenging.
The airline said it is is trying to help as much as possible.
As for Dennis Tajer, he said it’s been painful to see far fewer people flying, but he remains optimistic. “We are going to get through this. It may not be easy and I don’t know when, but we’ll come out the other side of this and we’re going to make it.”