FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Wednesday is the end of the Payroll Support Program that has helped American Airlines keep thousands of employees during the pandemic. If the program is not extended, American Airlines plans to furlough about 19,000 employees as of Oct. 1.

It was back in March that American Airlines, along with other major airlines, accepted a combination of grants and loans through the Cares Act that have sustained their employees. That was until Sept. 30 — a point in which they assumed the pandemic would be over and flight demand would be back.

“I believe that the six month extension will be sufficient to keep everyone employed, to meet the demand as it comes back, keep the infrastructure in place and not need to do this again,” said American Airlines CEO Doug Parker.

Parker has made it clear an extension is what they need. He said if the Payroll Support Program is extended, he would consider postponing the furloughs.

“Look the last thing we want to do is furlough employees, that’s why we have been fighting so hard for them [Congress] to come to an agreement,” Parker said.

On Wednesday evening, Parker sent a memo to employees about the furlough process beginning Thursday.

The number of 19,000 furloughs is pretty firm. Originally they needed to reduce employee headcount by about 40,000. But 12,000 agreed to leave with buyout packages, and 11,000 left voluntarily.

Holly Conway is a North Texas American Airlines flight attendant who was told Thursday would be her last day.

“I didn’t even open my letter, because I already knew what it was going to say…I didn’t want to just keep stabbing that knife in deeper,” Conway said. “But I still need a job, and I still need money.”

That’s why her and another flight attendant friend, who will also be furloughed Thursday, started their own home cleaning company, “Pretty Clean.” She said, though she’s grateful for second opportunities, it was a harsh reality that she may not return to the airport anytime soon.

“They kept saying potentially, but again I’m not trying to hold on to the potential, because I am facing reality,” Conway said.

They are hoping to add more furloughed flight attendants to their cleaning staff to give other unemployed airline employees an opportunity to sustain themselves. She said she’s sure there will be plenty who need work very soon.

“I mean I have a little bit of stability…but there’s a lot of the younger ones, the new hires….I feel bad for the ones who don’t have places to go and are scrambling,” Conway said.

Nicole Nielsen