Stimulus to bring airline relief funding

Southwest Airlines will not furlough workers, including 200 in Georgia, as planned because of the second round of COVID-19 relief funding. The money will also help Delta and other carriers. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
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Southwest Airlines will not furlough workers, including 200 in Georgia, as planned because of the second round of COVID-19 relief funding. The money will also help Delta and other carriers. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

The federal stimulus bill signed into law by President Donald Trump late Sunday is expected to bring $15 billion in relief for airlines.

The extension of the first round of COVID-19 federal aid is aimed at allowing carriers to pay employees and getting employees who had been involuntarily furloughed to return to work. Air travel is at about half the level it was prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, the second-largest carrier in Atlanta, had announced in early December plans to furlough nearly 7,000 employees. Among them were nearly 200 workers in Georgia, according to notices filed by Southwest with the Georgia Department of Labor.

But Southwest CEO Gary Kelly sent a memo to employees saying the company is halting plans to furlough employees or reduce pay.

Kelly noted that the airline is still overstaffed in many areas and asked employees to volunteer for time off.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines issued a statement Monday saying the funding extension “will be essential to enabling the airline industry to recover once vaccinations become widespread.”

Delta said it was able to avoid involuntary furloughs, after having more than 41,000 employees take unpaid leave, cutting staff through about 19,000 buyouts and early retirements, and reducing many employees’ pay and hours.

The roughly 1,700 Delta pilots who are getting about a third of regular pay through a labor agreement approved in late November to avoid furloughs will be restored to full pay for December through March.

But thousands of other workers in the airline industry, including contractors, have been furloughed.

One company that recently issued a notice of layoffs is airline caterer Gate Gourmet in Fulton County, with 351 workers to be affected in February 2021, according to a notice filed with the state labor department. It also laid off workers earlier this year before it received the first round of stimulus funding.

Airline contractors are set to receive a smaller $1 billion batch of relief money in the new stimulus bill, but it’s yet to be seen how that will be distributed.

Delta said it has no planned changes for contractor work, which it downsized before the original stimulus funding round earlier this year.

While the stimulus bill is also expected to restore flights to communities that lost airline service, Delta said it does not have a date to resume service to suspended markets and is monitoring demand.

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