Airlines say jobs, wages at risk if Congress doesn’t step in

Airline executives told members of Congress on Tuesday that the airline industry is losing an estimated $150 million a day, and they warned that tens of thousands of aviation workers could lose their jobs or face wage cuts if Congress doesn’t again step in to help.

They told members of Congress that while airlines are doing better, there is still a long way to go before people book flights like they did before the pandemic.

As a result, the airline industry is asking lawmakers to extend billions of dollars in financial assistance.

Joe DePete, with the Air Line Pilots Association, told lawmakers that the number of flights at Reagan National Airport is down 67% from two years ago.

Major airlines are carrying about 40% of the passengers that they were prior to the pandemic, and the overall number of flights has been cut in half, said Nick Calio, president and CEO of Airlines of America.

That’s an improvement over last spring, when flights dropped to their lowest level in decades. But Calio told the House Transportation and Infrastructure’s aviation subcommittee his trade group thought the industry would be doing better by now.

The airlines and aviation industry have received tens of billions of dollars in federal assistance and loans from Congress in the past year, but the latest aid package is scheduled to expire on April 1.

“We are still struggling, however, and in dire straits,” Calio said.

Industry officials urged lawmakers to approve another financial aid package. The COVID-19 relief package that’s now before the U.S. Senate would provide the airlines with $14 billion to help cover payroll expenses.

The funding was part of the legislation passed last week by the House.

During the hearing, Rep. Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat, expressed frustration that the Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t done more to help airlines enforce policies regarding masks. He criticized “jerks” who try to flout airline policies by sucking on a lollipop or continually drinking bottled water during a flight.

“They need to hear about the fines if they don’t follow the mask rule,” he said. “They need to hear about being banned from flights by the airlines, which a number of the airlines took their own initiative to do.”

Airlines have taken a wide range of steps to try to ensure public safety, officials said.

Masks are required on flights, planes undergo enhanced cleaning and the airlines have sought to educate passengers about the effectiveness of air filtration systems on aircraft.

The FAA last month signed an order calling for tighter enforcement of policies involving unruly airline passengers. Some have involved passengers who refused to wear masks.

The FAA is seeking $27,500 against a Delta Air Lines passenger who allegedly struck a flight attendant when the woman and her companion got into a dispute after being asked to wear a mask.

Mitchell Miller

Mitchell Miller has worked at WTOP since 1996, as a producer, editor, reporter and Senior News Director. After working "behind the scenes," coordinating coverage and reporter coverage for years, Mitchell moved back to his first love -- reporting. He is now WTOP's Capitol Hill reporter.

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