Key lawmaker asks airlines about delays and worker shortages

WASHINGTON (AP) – A key senator asks six U.S. airlines to explain the high rates of delayed and canceled flights this summer, and asks if there are labor shortages despite the fact that airlines receive billions in federal aid to keep workers at work.

Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, sent letters to CEOs of American, Southwest, Delta, JetBlue, Republic and Allegiant on Friday. She wrote that she is concerned about reports that have highlighted the role of worker shortages in a wave of delayed and canceled flights.

In identical letters to CEOs, Cantwell said each airline has mismanaged its workforce and, at worst, “failed to meet the goal of taxpayer funding and prepare for the increase in travel that we are currently seeing “.

Since March 2020, when the pandemic began to crush air travel, Congress approved $ 54 billion to keep airline workers employed. As a condition of the aid, airlines were prohibited from putting workers on leave, but persuaded tens of thousands of employees to take voluntary buyouts, early retirement or long-term leave to reduce the costs. costs.

Now the airlines are trying to increase their workforce. This week, American cited the growing number of passengers saying it will recall 3,300 long-term leave flight attendants and hire 800 more before the end of the year. Delta said it would hire up to 5,000 workers this year to reduce long wait times for customers who call the airline and to deal with worker shortages at contractors such as caterers and cleaners. ‘planes.

The airlines and their unions have been pushing for federal aid, which has been extended twice and is expected to end on September 30. The Airlines for America trade group has said that without the money, “the impacts of the pandemic would have been much more devastating for our industry. and our workforce, and our return to heaven would have been significantly slowed down.

Government figures show that around 35,000 airline jobs were lost last fall, when the aid briefly expired. Jobs were restored when Congress extended the wage relief.

Southwest, one of the hardest hit by the delays, said on Friday it was using federal money to continue flying to all the airports it served before the pandemic. He blamed the recent delays on summer thunderstorms and technological “challenges” last month that resulted in an unusually high number of flight delays and cancellations.

The number of people traveling to the United States hit a low of less than 100,000 per day in April 2020. It has fallen from about 700,000 per day in early February to about 2 million per day in July, although this is still the case. down 20% from the same level. months of 2019, before the pandemic.

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