Delta CEO asks workers to take extra unpaid trip in 2021 because the trade continues to wrestle

Delta Airline employees check in their bags at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia on July 22, 2020. During the COVID-19 pandemic, all employees and passengers on board a Delta aircraft must wear face masks.

Michael A. McCoy | Getty Images

Delta Air Lines CEO on Wednesday asked employees to sign up for an unpaid vacation with a slump in travel to continue through 2021.

“Our voluntary unpaid vacation program will continue to be critical to positioning Delta for recovery and we will need participants for the foreseeable future,” said Ed Bastian in a statement to employees. “I ask everyone to consider whether a voluntary vacation makes sense for you and your family.”

Delta executives and other airlines have warned of a slowdown in bookings in the past few weeks as Covid-19 infections have risen, making it harder to reduce cash burn.

The Transportation Security Administration said it screened 501,513 people at US airports on Tuesday, the lowest number since July 4, and about a quarter of the 1.9 million people TSA screened a year ago.

During an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street”, Bastian said that despite Christmas and New Year’s Eve, demand would probably rise to almost a third of the previous year’s level in a few weeks. He said he expected air traffic to recover in the spring after Covid vaccinations rose.

More than 40,000 Delta employees have opted for unpaid leave at the urging of the company. Around 18,000 takeovers and early retirement packages accepted, reducing Delta’s pre-pandemic headcount by about 20%.

Other airlines are aiming to cut costs further in 2021, with a recovery months away. JetBlue Airways told employees Tuesday that it plans to suspend staff increases, pay parental leave and extend executive pay cuts through 2021, CNBC reported.

“We plan to have sales billions of dollars below normal and challenge the JetBlue teams to cut costs and improve efficiency even further,” said Mike Elliott, JetBlue chief people officer, in a statement to the employees.

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