Wow: JetBlue Won’t Lay Off Any Pilots (At Least Through May 2021)

Filed Under: JetBlue

JetBlue pilots have reached an agreement with management that just about any US airline employee would be happy with at this point…

US airlines can lay off employees in October

US airlines received around $50 billion worth of grants and loans through the CARES Act. This included payroll protection, whereby airlines had to agree to not involuntarily furlough any employees through at least September 30.

Just about all major US airlines will be furloughing employees come October 1, given how long a recovery is expected to take.

For example, just yesterday Delta Air Lines notified pilots that “there may be a mass furlough” come October 1. Not only that, but the airline reached out to specific pilots to inform them that they are likely to be furloughed.

It seems like most major airlines will have to lay off some pilots, though there may be one exception.

JetBlue agrees not to furlough pilots

It has been revealed that JetBlue and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) have come to an agreement whereby pilots won’t be involuntarily furloughed until at least May 1, 2021.

Unfortunately that’s all we know. The terms of the agreement haven’t been disclosed beyond that, other than clarifying that this agreement doesn’t contain changes to pay rates, and that they’re not making significant changes to work rules.

Presumably there are some compromises here. I’m not sure if those come in the form of pilots agreeing to accept pay for fewer hours, or what.

Regardless, this is a victory for pilots. With this, JetBlue pilots are promised that they’ll be able to keep their jobs for well over a year into the pandemic (the CARES Act covered six months, and this covers another seven months).

Will other airlines do the same?

First of all, I think it’s highly unlikely we’ll see a similar agreement for any work group other than pilots, either at JetBlue or other airlines.

The reality is that pilots aren’t as easy to replace as other employee. That’s not intended to minimize the roles played by other vital employees in the industry, but purely from a qualification and training perspective, pilots are in a different league:

  • Retraining pilots is costly
  • Laying off pilots based on seniority gets extremely complicated in terms of aircraft, base, and position assignment, and is a logistical nightmare
  • When demand does recover, finding a sufficient number of new pilots isn’t necessarily going to be easy

Hopefully other airlines will be able to reach similar agreements to keep pilots employed throughout the pandemic, and for that matter hopefully May 2021 takes us through the worst of this situation.

Unfortunately I wouldn’t count on it, though. While other airlines are retiring significant portions of their fleets, JetBlue isn’t being as aggressive with aircraft retirements. In other words, other airlines plan to be smaller in the future, so even with a full recovery they wouldn’t need as many pilots.

Bottom line

JetBlue and ALPA have reached an agreement whereby no pilots will be involuntarily furloughed through at least May 1, 2021. That’s the best assurance we’ve seen for any work group at any US airline during the pandemic.

I’m curious to see if other airlines are able to come to similar agreements with pilots.

Comments
  1. Given the NDA which prevents ALPA from telling anyone what was actually agreed to, I think it’s premature to say that this is an agreement that just about anyone would be happy with. As an airline pilot myself, and a relatively junior one at that, of course I want to prevent furloughs, but not at any cost. Without knowing what the costs of the agreement are, it’s really too soon to celebrate it.

  2. I’m not surprised as JetBlue, like Southwest or Spirit, is a more efficiently run airline than the legacy 3.
    Just look at AA’s upcoming mass layoffs. DL and UA will follow.

    @Michael

    Well done. Loose lips sink ships.
    If you really want transparency maybe a union isn’t the best thing. It might cost you more, and a lot less for the union leaders.
    Personally, B6 pilots should celebrate. At the end of the day, they still kept their jobs for almost a year.

  3. @Eskimo: I never said they need to be more transparent, but it’s absolutely true that it’s impossible to know how good an agreement is without knowing the full picture. The information will be known at some point, and only then can we really know if the affected pilots should be celebrating.

  4. @ah
    Why? My guess is Gatwick and Stansted will be absolutely desperate for new business right now, and very cheap; and Heathrow may even have some spare capacity.

  5. Why don’t we wait and see what the agreement entails and if any concessions were made behind the pilots backs before calling this a huge win. Devils in the details when it comes to this stuff. Way too early to be cheerleading this agreement. However it is promising and I for one hope ALPA knocked it out of the park for JetBlue pilots.

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