To prevent mass airline industry layoffs, Congress must extend the Payroll Support Program

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I have been a flight attendant for 38 years, over half of my entire life. I have seen the aviation industry evolve before my eyes and my career has been shaped by its highs and lows. Today I serve as APFA National President and represent the 27,000 Flight Attendants of American Airlines. Never in my career could I, or anyone, have imagined we would be where we are today.

Aviation has been among the hardest-hit industries, demand reached unprecedented lows, and the forecast remains bleak. In the early days of this pandemic, our elected leaders came through in a significant way for frontline aviation workers and our families ― and for a good reason.

The U.S. aviation industry directly employs hundreds of thousands of people and is essential to our nation’s economic vitality. We are not just an industry, we connect people and industries. American families and local economies benefit from the commerce we enable when critical goods get to where they need to go.

While COVID-19 has devastated our national economy, the CARES Act Payroll Support Program (PSP) has stabilized aviation and kept frontline employees, including the 27,000 American Airlines flight attendants, on the job. It has also kept us connected to our health care benefits amidst this public health crisis.

The PSP has allowed us to continue to serve passengers who need to travel, whether they are health professionals flying to help in high-risk areas, or family members flying to be closer to loved ones after months spent apart. As flight attendants, we are proud of our role in safely connecting people, even under challenging circumstances.

But another crisis is looming. All of this could be compromised in two days if the airlines have no choice but to lay off thousands of employees on Oct. 1.

Congress passed the CARES Act and the PSP with resounding bipartisan support. The funding from the PSP has gone directly and exclusively to frontline aviation workers’ paychecks, saving many thousands from the layoffs that would have otherwise been inevitable with the demand for air travel at an unprecedented low. This support has been a lifeline for aviation workers and our families, and we remain grateful to be on the job today.

When Congress created the PSP, we were genuinely hopeful that the worst of the pandemic would be behind us by now. While the PSP successfully prevented a massive number of layoffs, the virus continues to present a tremendous challenge to our country and our economy. With the PSP set to expire on Sept. 30, the need to continue this vital program is clear.

Democrats and Republicans, in the House and the Senate, have voiced support for extending the PSP through March 31, 2021. We appreciate their foresight and leadership; Congress understands how much worse it will be if we do not stabilize our aviation industry — but a bill has yet to be passed. Without an extension, U.S. aviation workers, whose jobs have so far been saved, will face the very fate that Congress invested in to prevent.

This outcome can be avoided. Congressional leaders and the White House can, once again, stand up for airline workers and our families. We must save American jobs. But these are the final days in which we can do that. This is the one issue that cannot wait and cannot be fixed later on.

It is imperative to keep our frontline employees up in the air and off of the unemployment lines. Getting Americans back to work will be an easier task with the aviation industry still intact, credentialed, and waiting to help us all take off again.

Julie Hedrick is national president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, representing 27,000+ flight attendants at American Airlines.

Tags airline industry employees airline workers layoffs Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic relief

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