“These are people who are not going to be able to pay their rent, they are not going to be able to take care of themselves,” Nelson said on CNBC.
Beyond American and United, smaller airlines have sent layoff warnings to several thousand employees. Delta and Southwest, which entered the pandemic in stronger financial shape than American and United, have shed thousands of jobs through voluntary departures but don’t plan to lay off workers immediately.
Airlines have persuaded tens of thousands of employees to take early retirement or severance deals. But even after those offers, the airlines have more pilots, flight attendants, mechanics and other workers than they need.
Critics say airlines shouldn’t get special treatment, and that subsidizing their workforces will only delay the companies’ need to adjust to the downturn in travel — which even airline trade groups think will last three or four years.
“The airlines are always the first ones begging for support. They get bailed out over and over again,” Veronique de Rugy, a research fellow at George Mason University and columnist for a libertarian magazine, said in a recent interview. “Airlines have a history of not preparing properly for the next emergency because they know they are going to be bailed out.”
In March, Congress approved $25 billion mostly in grants to cover passenger airline payrolls through September and up to another $25 billion in loans that the airlines could use for other purposes. Late Tuesday, the Treasury Department said it completed loans to seven major airlines: American, United, Alaska, JetBlue, Frontier, Hawaiian and SkyWest.