British Airways among airlines encouraging staff to take unpaid leave amid coronavirus crisis

Carriers have been hit hard by outbreak

Helen Coffey
Friday 06 March 2020 14:06 GMT

Airlines around the world are encouraging employees to take unpaid leave as the spread of coronavirus has seen a huge drop in demand for flights.

British Airways is the latest to make the offer to staff, although the airline stressed “it’s entirely optional”.

“We continue to closely monitor the situation, and as a precaution we are taking steps to control the costs in our business,” a spokesperson told The Independent.

EasyJet has also instigated a pay and recruitment freeze, plus it's offering unpaid leave and halting non-mandatory training.

Virgin Atlantic announced a company-wide recruitment freeze, restrictions on all non-essential staff travel and training, and the option of two weeks’ unpaid leave for ground-based employees.

CEO Shai Weiss has elected to take a 20 per cent pay cut between April and June, while the rest of the executive team have agreed to a 15 per cent drop in earnings.

Lufthansa Group, which includes Lufthansa, Swiss and Austrian Airlines, is implementing a hiring freeze and offering staff unpaid leave, effective immediately.

Asian and Gulf-based airlines have been hit particularly hard by the spread of Covid-19.

Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific has said 75 per cent of its staff (around 25,000 employees) have been asked to take unpaid leave for at least three weeks.

Singapore Airlines has imposed a hiring freeze and is considering encouraging current staff to take voluntary unpaid leave after a third round of capacity cuts. About 500 cabin crew and 50 pilots are not being fully utilised due to the drop in demand.

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Dubai-based airline Emirates has asked workers to take up to a month of voluntary unpaid leave as the coronavirus outbreak forces it to cancel flights. Chief operating officer Adel al-Redha said in a statement: “Considering the availability of additional resources and the fact that many employees want to utilize their leave, we have provided our employees the option to avail leave or apply for voluntary unpaid leave for up to one month at a time.”

Etihad Airways, Abu Dhabi’s flag carrier, has asked cabin crew to consider bringing forward paid leave from later in the year to April to correspond to reduced demand.

“Etihad has not asked staff to take unpaid leave,” an Etihad spokesperson added.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) yesterday released advice stating that residents, including expats, shouldn’t travel anywhere amid the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak.

American airlines are following suit – United Airlines is suspending hiring until at least 30 June and there will be a pay freeze. A leaked memo sent to staff also suggests employees will be offered unpaid leave.

JetBlue soon followed, offering flight attendants unpaid leave in April, when it plans to cut capacity by 5 per cent.

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