US Airways, cutting back in the face of weak demand for air travel, has asked 400 flight attendants to take voluntary furloughs lasting many months.
A spokesman for the Association of Flight Attendants, the union that represents the employee group, said union officials are “extremely disappointed” by the action. Jeff Albers, secretary-treasurer of the AFA Council 66 in Tempe, said the airline is not likely to get anywhere near that number of volunteers.
The Tempe-based carrier is asking 300 flight attendants based in Phoenix and Las Vegas and 100 based at several eastern cities to take voluntary leaves of four months or 16 months.
“We have an overstaffing situation and were hoping that attrition would take care of it,” said US Airways spokeswoman Valerie Wunder. “Unfortunately, it hasn’t. We have waited as long as we could, and now we are having to ask for voluntary furloughs.”
If the number of volunteers is insufficient, leaves will have to become mandatory, she said, adding that flight attendants will have 10 days to decide if they want to voluntarily participate. The first furloughs would begin Aug. 5.
Albers said flight attendants who go on furlough do not receive pay, and medical benefits expire after 25 days.
US Airways has reduced the capacity of its flights by about 5 percent in the past year as the weak economy reduced demand for air travel. That has brought the need for staff reductions, Wunder said.
About 1,300 positions have been cut in the past year among other employee groups, she said.
Albers said the union is disappointed with the flight attendant furloughs because the union had been trying to work with the airline to save money. Among the measures has been substituting lower-paid junior members for higher-seniority flight attendants on some flights and taking days off without pay, he said.
“We had found ways to relax sections of our contract, and, up to Monday, we were under the impression it was working,” he said. “But then they said we need a head count cut, and they would not entertain any of the other proposals that we had made.”
Albers said it may be possible for the airline to get 100 volunteers in the East, but there are unlikely to be as many as 300 in the West.
Requiring mandatory furloughs, which would affect those with the least seniority, would be “devastating,” he said.
The union will “make every effort” to support its members, he said. That has included setting up a food bank at the union office to help flight attendants who need assistance to make ends meet.