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Airlines Furlough Workers, San Diego Tourism Takes Hit

Passengers head to planes at the San Diego International Airport on June 24, 2020.
Erik Anderson
Passengers head to planes at the San Diego International Airport on June 24, 2020.

More than 30,000 airline employees face furloughs after lawmakers and the White House failed to agree on a pandemic relief package on Thursday.

And the cuts to the airline industry hurt San Diego tourism and the local economy.

Airlines Furlough Workers, San Diego Tourism Takes Hit
Listen to this story by Jacob Aere.

The proposed relief package included $20 billion in federal aid for airlines. But at the moment, two major US carriers are planning furloughs. They would affect 19,000 workers at American Airlines and about 13,000 at United Airlines.


But both airlines vowed to reverse the job cuts if the government agrees to provide additional aid in the next few days. Still, airport traffic is way down.

Sabrina LoPiccolo is a communications specialist for the San Diego International Airport. She says the pandemic has forced changes to flight routes.

“In April, which was probably the height of the pandemic, we were down about 95% over last year," she said. "That means about 95% less people were coming through the airport. In September we ended at about 69% down over the previous year."

In San Diego, nationwide airline reductions and layoffs have been affecting the local economy.

Elvin Lai, vice-chair at the San Diego Convention Center, said lack of travel could affect the San Diego tourism industry for years.


“The decrease in flight has greatly impacted us as a destination for leisure travel and business travel,” he said.

RELATED: United Plans 16,000 Furloughs As Airlines Cut Jobs During Pandemic Downturn

Video: Airlines Furlough Workers, San Diego Tourism Takes Hit

This month American Airlines cut 83,000 flights from its October schedule. That represents a 55% decrease in flights from last October, and the airline only represents a fraction of all US travel.

San Diego’s airport has undergone similar changes.

“There were some routes cut,” LoPiccolo said, “Most notably our international destinations because of the government restrictions that are in place.”

At stake are the jobs of pilots, flight attendants, baggage handlers, counter agents and other airline and airport personnel.

The economic impacts to tourism could be felt for years.

Lai said 2023 and 2024 are the industry's expected years of recovery.

"When I say recovery I mean getting back to what we were making before COVID without inflation," he said.

Two other major US airlines, Delta and Southwest, have teamed up with private capital markets to help them avoid layoffs for the time being.