July 20, 2020 / 3:53 PM / 23 days ago

Delta, Southwest draw strong demand for pilot early departure deals

CHICAGO/WASHINGTON, July 20 (Reuters) - Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines have each received strong demand from pilots for early departure packages aimed at slimming their workforces to weather the coronavirus pandemic, according to preliminary numbers.

The union representing Delta pilots said 2,235 pilots had volunteered for a voluntary early out program ahead of a Sunday deadline, up from 1,700 on Friday, when Delta told pilots it would avoid furloughs if they agreed to reduced guaranteed minimum pay.

At Southwest, around 24% of pilots and 33% of flight attendants have agreed to early retirement or long-term leaves of absence, a person familiar with the matter said.

There is a period for employees at both Delta and Southwest to rescind their decision, so the numbers are not final.

Delta and Southwest did not comment.

U.S. airlines, which received a $25 billion bailout in March to cover payroll for six months, are trying to encourage employees to accept voluntary exit deals in the hope of avoiding involuntary furloughs in the fall, when a government ban on forced job cuts expires.

They had hoped that air travel demand would recover by October, but have warned that bookings that began to rise from historic lows in May and June have now leveled off or even fallen due to a rise in COVID-19 cases in some parts of the country. (Reporting by Tracy Rucinski and David Shepardson; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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