Uncertainty grows within airline industry amid grim outlook for the future

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ST. LOUIS – These are unprecedented times for the airline industry. With business pummeled by the pandemic and federal aid expiring October 1, furloughs and layoffs loom.

American Airlines flight attendant Allie Malis is one of more than 30,000 airline industry employees holding out hope for a last-minute stimulus agreement.

“It’s crazy. Tomorrow I’m unemployed and today I’m waiting for Congress to do something,” she said.

Dan Reed, a senior contributor for Forbes, says COVID’s effect on business travel created a problem the airline industry it might never solve.

“Without those higher business fare travelers on board, or without as many of them, something is going to have to change in the back of the plane, something is going to have to change in the schedule. Which all affects the economics,” he said.

Reed says the longer planes and the people who operate them sit idle, the more difficult and expensive it becomes to recertify them.

“Now with a third of the employees being removed from the equation, and probably 45 percent of the fleet being parked, it’s just hard to see how the equation ever comes back to being the way it was,” he said.

Even for Southwest Airlines, the lifeblood of St. Louis-Lambert International Airport, and one of most nation’s most financially healthy airlines, Reed’s outlook is grim.

“If it gets worse, and the delay of a return to travel extends deep into next year, all bets are off, even on Southwest when it comes to layoffs,” Reed said. “This is an unprecedented time when we’re seeing an industry’s foundational economic equation being changed. How it will come back together is hard to predict.”

And for airline workers like Malis, navigating a holding pattern unlike any they’ve ever experienced.

“I mean, I don’t know how to feel right now. Do I feel sad? Do I feel scared? Do I feel angry and frustrated? There’s so many emotions that are pulsing through my veins and through the veins of, you know, a thousand other American Airlines flight attendants who are also on this last day of the payroll support program, which is stabilize our jobs, maintain our health care, and we don’t know what’s going to happen next,” she said.

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