On Monday, the US House voted in favor of a $900 billion stimulus package that includes funds for the travel industry. Early in the pandemic, airlines were able to retain many employees during the spring and summer with assistance from the federal government as air travel has been cut by over 50% since March. That funding ran out on Sept. 30.
The stimulus provides $15 billion through the Payroll Support Program. The program will help airlines pay workers and provide benefits for industry workers through the end of March. The funds also will help airlines transport coronavirus vaccines.
In a letter to employees, United Airlines leaders said that it's prepared to return thousands of employees who were furloughed in September. Those employees will be brought back on a temporary basis, United Airlines said.
“As you know, involuntary furloughs were always a last resort for us and we worked really hard over the summer – through cost-cutting, capital-raising, and partnering with our unions – to make the number of people who were ultimately impacted as small as possible,” said United CEO J. Scott Kerby and President Brett Hart in a joint letter. “Now, those employees who are eligible under the terms of the PSP extension can temporarily come back to United through March 2021.”
Leaders from the Association of Flight Attendants said that Monday’s bill passage should have come months ago.
“Aviation is safe when we fly with the spirit that ‘we’re all in this together.’ Our AFA Government Affairs activists never stopped fighting and were joined by thousands of new Flight Attendant activists who got involved in our union to make this possible,” said the Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson. “While we are getting everyone back on payroll, connected to healthcare and help to the whole country, this is just a downpayment on what’s needed for recovery. We need everyone ready to fight forward.”
Due to concerns over the spread of the virus, several airlines have eliminated the middle seat on flights. Other airlines are capping the number of passengers on board flights.
In addition to these restrictions, international travel is largely restricted from the US.
Amid the pandemic, carriers are attempting to regain confidence in travel. Airlines are strictly enforcing mask wearing on board flights, and have been promoting sanitation efforts to eliminate the coronavirus from spreading among passengers.
“We hope you find comfort in the policies we’ve implemented to keep you safe, including blocking middle seats, using electrostatic spraying on surfaces in the airport and onboard between flights, and requiring masks. Wearing a mask is the No. 1 thing each of us can do to help control the spread of the virus and protect each other,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian wrote in a letter to customers.