United Airlines to furlough 1,550 flight attendants

MINNEAPOLIS -- United Airlines said on Wednesday it will furlough 1,550 flight attendants as it reduces its flying this fall.

The furloughs work out to roughly 10 percent of United’s cabin workers. United is seeking 7,000 job reductions companywide by the end of 2009, said spokesman Jeff Kovick. United has previously announced plans to cut as many as 1,600 managers and 5,500 front-line workers, and to furlough 950 pilots.

United said it would seek voluntary flight attendant furloughs first, but will need to get to a total of 1,550 by Oct. 31.

“As we reduce the size of our fleet and take other actions to enable United to compete in this environment of record fuel prices, we must take the difficult but necessary steps to reduce the number of people we have to run our operation,” Kovick said.

United is also laying off 213 foreign national flight attendants based in Bangkok and Singapore. Those workers, who are not part of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, are required to be dismissed before any union members can be furloughed, the union said. United, along with Northwest Airlines Corp., is one of the biggest U.S. carriers in Asia.

Furloughed flight attendants keep their health insurance and flight privileges. AFA spokeswoman Sara Nelson said the union is encouraging voluntary furloughs in an effort to avoid involuntary ones.

Also on Wednesday, testimony began in U.S. District Court in Chicago on United’s request for a temporary injunction to stop alleged sick-outs by pilots. The Air Line Pilots Association has said it did its best to discourage any organized sick-out. Testimony was scheduled to continue on Thursday.

Shares of United parent UAL Corp. fell $1.27, or 11.4 percent, to close at $9.88 on Wednesday as oil prices rose.