Pelosi asks airlines to pause thousands of furloughs with more aid ‘imminent’

A United Airlines plane takes off above American Airlines planes on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on October 1, 2020.

Mario Tama | Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday asked airlines to hold off on tens of thousands of job cuts that started this week, vowing additional aid for the battered sector, sending shares in major U.S. carriers higher.

Pelosi’s comments come a day after airlines started furloughing more than 33,000 employees after the terms of a $25 billion federal payroll support package passed in March expired. That aid, meant to help airlines cope with a plunge in bookings because of the coronavirus pandemic, prohibited job cuts until Oct. 1.

Airlines have pleaded with lawmakers and the White House in recent weeks for $25 billion more to preserve jobs through March 2021 after a significant rebound in travel failed to materialize over the summer. While the proposal for more federal help won bipartisan support, talks for a national coronavirus relief package that could include the airline funding faltered this week, and airlines began their furloughs.

Pelosi said the aid could be part of a standalone bill just for airline support or a broader bill.

“As relief for airline workers is being advanced, the airline industry must delay these devastating job cuts,” Pelosi said in a statement.

Shares of American Airlines, which Thursday started furloughing 19,000 workers, more than any U.S. airline, were up more than 3% shortly after Pelosi’s statement. United Airlines shares were up more than 2%. The Chicago-based carrier announced more than 13,000 furloughs this week.

The two airlines make up the vast majority of the planned furloughs and told employees that they would reverse course if Congress approves the additional $25 billion in payroll support.

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