Prior to the COVID-19 bringing the whole world to a halt, the airline business was good as usual. Obviously all that has changed. The bailout from the government has defered airlines from furloughing their employees until the end of September. However, furlough warning notices have been sent by some of the biggest airlines in the world. Delta Air Lines and United Airlines have both sent warning letter to their employees. Delta is looking to furlough over 2,500 pilots and United is looking to furlough over 2,200 pilots. Both companies have also sent out tens of thousands of furlough warning notices to their flight attendants and other ground workers. American Airlines is expected to do so next week. Rumors have their numbers to be around 1,600 pilots. Only time will tell.
Now furlough warning notices are not necessarily the final decision that the airlines make to furlough their employees. In fact, it merely serves as an administrative compliance. Federal law requires airlines to notify their employees 60 days in advance. Some airlines are contractually obligated to their pilots to notify them 90 days out. Whether or not the airlines will ultimately have to furlough their employees including pilots will depend on a lot of variables. When it comes to their pilots, the airlines will be willing to keep pilot overages a little bit longer than their other employees. Simply because for pilots, their skill is perishable. Each month that goes by, pilot skills degrade. Also, a lot of the legacy airlines such as the DAL, UAL and AAL, have a lot of different types of aircrafts. Even with the recent downsizing of their fleets, most still have multiple narrowbody aircrafts and multiple widebody aircrafts. With the fleet downsizing, pilots have been displaced as well in reverse senority order. Junior widebody First Officer may be displaced to either a Captain seat or a First Officer seat on a narrowbody. All the seat shuffling will require trainings that could cost the airlines millions of dollars. Therefore, the airlines will not furlough pilots simply because they are fat on pilots for 6months or even 1 year. Other variables such as future customer booking, market shares and union contracts are some examples of the big factors that airlines will have to consider prior to furloughing their pilots.
Below is the data from the TSA 2020 passenger count. A link at the bottom of this page can be used to obtain the data below.
The graph shows that the “blue” passenger count is trending up. One month ago, the percentage of traveler compared with the previous year was at 13.9%. Another month prior, that number was 8.5%. Three months ago, the number was 4.1% during the peak of the shutdown. Yesterday, the percentage of traveler was sitting at 27.2% of the previous year.
While the trend is up, we are still short of the previous year by roughly 1.8 million passengers. As an airline employee, I cannot say that I am jubilant about where we are now. Certainly, not when millions of people are infected, hundreds of thousands have perished because of the coronavirus, and many more are fighting through it as you are reading this article.
Now something to keep in mind as you look at the TSA passenger count data is that it includes flight crew as well. The number of flight crew should not make any meaningful difference in the passenger count. After all, on aircraft of 160 passengers, you have 6 crews. So even adjusted for the flight crews who are traveling to work and for leisure, the number of passengers still outweigh the amount of flight crews going through their security line.
You can access the TSA Passenger Count here.