American Airlines to lay off 228 flight attendants

Tuesday, September 1, 2009 | 5:19 p.m. CDT

DALLAS — American Airlines is laying off 228 flight attendants and putting hundreds more on leave as it deals with an ongoing downturn in traffic and lower revenue.

The airline said Tuesday that the cuts will take effect Oct. 1.

American, the nation's second-largest airline, said 228 employees will be furloughed — laid off but with rehiring rights — and the company will put 244 more on leave for two months. Another 449 will take voluntary options such as leave.

Nearly half of the flight attendants to be furloughed are based at New York's LaGuardia Airport.

The airline said it planned to cut 1,200 flight attendant jobs but was able to reduce the number by adjusting staffing requirements for the winter.

The airline said in June that it would cut jobs as it reduced flights to meet lower travel demand.

American said Tuesday that of the 228 furloughs, 105 would be at LaGuardia, 67 at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, 25 in Boston, 17 in St. Louis and 14 at Reagan National near Washington, D.C.

The workers' union, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, said it had worked with the company to avoid even more layoffs by offering employees voluntary leave and the two-month forced absences.

"What was going to be 1,200 jobs lost has been limited to 228," said union President Laura Glading.

The 244 employees who will be placed on "involuntary overage leave" won't work in October and November, when air traffic is expected to be very weak. They will return to work in December, the union said.

While off the job for two months, those employees will have to pay for their own health insurance, although they can get it at American's lower group rate, according to the airline.

Those on involuntary leave can apply for unemployment benefits without American contesting the claim, said American spokeswoman Missy Latham. The airline would contest a claim filed by someone who took voluntary leave, she said.

American's traffic plunged 10 percent in the first half of this year compared to the same period of 2008, as the recession grounded many travelers.

The airline's woes were compounded by a steep drop in high-paying business travelers. Second-quarter revenue at parent AMR Corp. tumbled 21 percent from a year ago.

Like other carriers, American has responded to declining traffic by cutting flights. American's capacity in the first six months of the year was nearly 8 percent lower than during the same time last year.

Airlines can cut capacity by operating fewer flights or using smaller aircraft that carry fewer passengers. With fewer flights, American doesn't need as many flight attendants, pilots and other workers.

Shares of Fort Worth, Texas-based AMR fell 20 cents, or 3.8 percent, to $5.26 in afternoon trading.

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