United Airlines moves closer to saving pilot jobs, American pleads for more gov't aid

FILE PHOTO: A United Airlines passenger jet taxis at Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey, U.S. December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

CHICAGO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - United Airlines UAL.O said on Wednesday it was "one step closer" to saving thousands of jobs after pilot union leaders voted to approve a tentative deal with the company, while American Airlines AAL.O launched a fresh plea to Washington for more industry aid.

U.S. airlines, battling a severe crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic, are in a final sprint before $25 billion in federal assistance for airlines’ payroll expires this month.

They have asked for a six-month extension to protect jobs through March, even as they try to strike deals with employees to minimize thousands of job cuts on Oct. 1 without fresh aid.

The leaders of the Air Line Pilots Association that represents United’s 13,000 pilots voted in favor of a deal that would protect some 2,850 jobs until June 2021, paving the path for a full vote by union members that will begin on Sept. 21.

United has warned that some 16,000 jobs total are at risk without more aid.

The chief executive of American Airlines, which has said nearly 20,000 of its jobs are in jeopardy, and leaders of seven employee unions implored congressional leaders in a letter on Wednesday “to find a way to work together to reach agreement on a COVID-19 relief bill that includes a clean extension” of payroll support. [L1N2GD1DA]

Airlines have also been trying to minimize the number of jobs cuts through voluntary packages like early retirement or temporary leaves.

United’s proposed agreement with its pilots offers a second round of early separation options for all pilots age 50 and over with 10 years of experience.

It also adds restrictions on the amount of flying by regional carriers and would provide certain triggers for a pay raise and other contract modifications that would improve pilots’ work conditions, the union leaders said in a statement.

Reporting by Tracy Rucinski and David Shepardson; Editing by Chris Reese and Aurora Ellis