Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines, announced today that the Board of Directors has elected Southwest Airlines Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly to serve as the Chairman of the Board for a two-year term beginning January 1, 2021. Robin Hayes, CEO of JetBlue Airways, was elected to serve as the Vice Chairman of the association.
“We are excited to have Gary ascending to the Chairman role at the time of such significant challenge for our industry, carriers and employees,” said A4A President and CEO Nicholas E. Calio. “This year has been devastating for U.S. airlines, and we are looking forward to rebuilding the industry and relaunching air travel in the new year under the leadership and vision of both Gary and Robin.”
Prior to the pandemic, U.S. airlines were transporting a record 2.5 million passengers and 58,000 tons of cargo per day. As travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders were implemented, demand for air travel declined sharply with passenger volumes plummeting 96 percent to a level not seen since before the dawn of the jet age. Carriers have been forced to cut flights and currently are burning $180 million in cash every day just to stay in operation. The rapid spread of COVID-19 along with government and business-imposed restrictions on air travel continue to have an unprecedented and debilitating impact on the U.S. airlines, their employees and the traveling and shipping public. Today, passenger volumes are down 65-70 percent, the pace of new bookings has slowed and carriers have reported an increase in customer cancellations.
“Throughout the pandemic, U.S. airline employees have continued to provide essential services, including transporting medical personnel, equipment and supplies. Now, as our nation prepares for the approval of a coronavirus vaccine, it is more critical than ever that our employees are on the job and ready to assist with the distribution of these vaccines across the country and around the world,” said Kelly. “We appreciate the support Washington extended back in March with the Payroll Support Program (PSP), and we continue to ask Congress to pass another federal relief package that will help preserve the jobs of these hardworking men and women in the U.S. airline industry. Additionally, A4A and its members look forward to meeting with members of the new administration to discuss mutual priorities to keep the national air transportation system an important contributor to our economy.”
The CARES Act passed in March included direct payroll assistance for U.S. airlines, providing the immediate financial relief necessary to preserve airline jobs. Unfortunately, when that funding expired on September 30, tens of thousands of employees – including flight attendants, pilots, mechanics and many others – were furloughed. U.S. airlines have said they may be able to restore these jobs if the PSP is extended, but this becomes increasingly challenging with each passing day.
“No doubt about it, our number one goal is survival and keeping our employees on the job and out of the unemployment line. We also can’t take our eye off the importance of sustainability,” added Hayes. “At the end of last year – prior to the pandemic – I remember saying that sustainability was probably the most critical issue facing the industry. We have to be fully committed to a more sustainable future.”