US airlines adding jobs, extending rebound from October low

U.S. airlines are adding jobs as industry employment extends a rebound from a low in October, when tens of thousands of airline workers were briefly laid off after federal payroll aid expired.

Cargo airlines have added jobs while passenger airlines have shed workers, mostly through incentives for workers to quit or take early retirement.

The Transportation Department said today that 713,949 people held full-time or part-time jobs at airlines in mid-January, up from 694,638 in December and the low of 673,278 in October.

However, the industry’s January employment was down 5% from January 2020, before the United States felt the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic, which has devastated air travel.

Delta Air Lines has made the sharpest reduction in its work force, cutting nearly 28,000 jobs, or 30.9% of its workers, since January 2020, according to figures reported to the Transportation Department.

United Airlines cut more than 15,000 jobs, or 16.7%, in the 12 months. American Airlines eliminated 8,700 jobs, or 8% of its workers, and Southwest shed more than 4,600 jobs, or 7.5%.

Hawaiian, Republic and JetBlue all reduced their workforces by more than 10%.

Airlines were barred from laying off workers for six months last year as a condition of up to $25 billion in federal payroll assistance. United, American and others furloughed thousands of workers when the aid lapsed in October, but put them back on the payroll after Congress retroactively approved another $25 billion in aid in December.

Legislation pending in Congress would give airlines another $14 billion to cover about 60% of their payroll costs and bar layoffs through September.

The airlines, facing plunging revenue from travel restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, have paid workers bonuses to quit and encouraged others to take unpaid leave.

While passenger airlines have totaled billion in losses during the pandemic, it has been a different story at cargo carriers — good news for their employees.

FedEx’s express-delivery division grew by about 24,000 jobs, or 9.8%, United Parcel Service added 183 jobs, or 2.9%, in its air-shipment business, and smaller cargo carriers such as Atlas Air also added jobs, according to the Transportation Department.