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Delta urges 3,000 flight attendants to take unpaid leave, shorter schedules to avoid furloughs

Delta Air Lines passenger planes are seen parked due to flight reductions made to slow the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Birmingham, Alabama, March 25, 2020.

Elijah Nouvelage | Reuters

Delta Air Lines will have more flight attendants than needed into next summer and have asked cabin crews to take as much as a year off or consider other options to avoid involuntary furloughs as demand remains weak for air travel.

“Based on the forward-looking network schedule we know today – recognizing there will be continued schedule volatility with COVID-19 – we’ve confirmed we will be over-staffed from October into the summer of 2021,” said Allison Ausband, Delta’s senior vice president of in-flight service, said this week in an employee note that was reviewed by CNBC. “In keeping with our culture, we are continuing to put our people first by introducing several new options that provide innovative opportunities to preserve jobs.”

She said the airline would need “at least” 3,000 of Delta’s roughly 20,000 flight attendants to take unpaid leave ranging from four to 12 months, among other options the airline outlined. Those include sharing schedules with other flight attendants or working alternating months. Flight attendants can also apply to work in the catering department, which Delta said would come with similar pay.

Some 17,000 Delta employees, about 20% of the company, have volunteered for buyouts or early retirement packages that included cash severance and health care benefits, among other perks. More than 4,000 flight attendants have opted to leave the company. Delta and its competitors have urged employees to take such packages to limit financial losses during the pandemic.

A $25 billion federal aid package prohibits airlines from involuntarily furloughing workers through Sept. 30, but political support has grown in favor of extending another $25 billion to protect those jobs.

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