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Delta to restore staff hours in January but urges voluntary leave of absence

FILE PHOTO: Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines, speaks during a keynote address at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Steve Marcus/File Photo

CHICAGO (Reuters) -Delta Air Lines said on Wednesday it would restore full employee schedules on Jan. 1 but renewed calls for workers to consider voluntary leave-of-absence programs as travel remains depressed while people await widespread COVID-19 vaccine availability.

“With COVID-19 cases increasing in recent weeks, we know the recovery continues to be choppy,” Delta Chief Executive Ed Bastian said a memo to employees.

“Our voluntary unpaid leave program will continue to be essential to positioning Delta for the recovery, and we will need participants for the foreseeable future,” he said, noting that a widely available vaccine was likely still months away.

Earlier, Bastian told CNBC that travel during the upcoming holiday season will be similar to numbers in recent weeks, when traffic has hovered around one-third of normal levels.

“I don’t see that changing for the next couple of months,” he said.

The number of passengers screened at U.S. airports dipped to 501,513 on Tuesday, the lowest number since July 4.

Still, airlines are hoping to be able to tap into pent-up demand in the spring once vaccines are more widely distributed.

Delta, which is the only U.S. airline blocking middle seats through March, said it has put 700 passengers on its no-fly list for refusing to comply with its mandatory mask policy.

Reporting by Tracy RucinskiEditing by Bernadette Baum

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