A pilot shortage has suddenly become a surplus in some cases as the spread of COVID-19 prompts flight cancellations and travel bans. On Friday, United Airlines offered its long-haul pilots a month off at two-thirds pay as it chops service to most of Asia. Earlier in the week, United said the travel market to China has utterly collapsed and demand for other Asian destinations has dropped 75 percent. The airline cut service to South Korea from 28 flights a week to 15 last week. “Moving forward, we will continue to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 and work closely with our labor partners to help manage our business to minimize the operational and financial disruption of the outbreak,” United said in a statement.
The United branch of the Air Line Pilots Association announced the offer to its members on Friday and it affects a relatively small portion of the total pilot labor force. It applies to some wide-body pilots and gives them the pay for 50 hours of flying time to take the month of April off. Most of those pilots would normally log 80 hours in a month. United ALPA Chairman Todd Insler said more pilots could be affected in the future. “The reductions in block hours has resulted in lower line values and fewer flying opportunities in some fleets,” Insler said in the message to members. “We are preparing for the possibility of further reductions to our schedules as the virus spreads.”