United Airlines is preparing for the biggest pilot furloughs of its history after announcing the need to cut 2,850 pilot jobs this year, or about 21% of the total, without further U.S. government aid.
Airlines, reeling from the devastating impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic on air travel, have asked the U.S. government for another $25 billion (18.93 billion pounds) to cover employee payroll through March.
The first tranche, which banned any job cuts until Oct. 1, expires at the end of September, but talks in Washington have stalled as Congress has struggled to reach agreement on a broader coronavirus assistance package.
United's planned job cuts, released in a memo to employees and shared with the media, would take place between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30 and are significantly higher than those announced earlier this week by rivals Delta Air Lines and American Airlines .
Facing a shrinking industry in the years ahead, airlines have generally tried to mitigate the number of forced job cuts by offering early retirement or voluntary departure deals, but some carriers' packages have been more attractive than others.
"While other airlines have chosen to reduce manpower through voluntary means, it is tragic that United has limited those options for our pilots and instead has chosen to furlough more pilots than ever before in our history," the union representing United's 13,000 pilots said in a statement.
United said the numbers were based on current travel demand for the remainder of the year and its anticipated flying schedule, which it said "continues to be fluid with the resurgence of COVID-19 in regions across the U.S."
Chicago-based United is more exposed than its peers to international travel, which is expected to take longer to rebound from the pandemic.