United Airlines Will Close Their Overseas Cabin Crew Bases In Hong Kong, Tokyo and Frankfurt From October 1, 2020


United Airlines will close its cabin crew bases in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Frankfurt, eliminating a total of 840 jobs, as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on international air travel.

The Chicago-headquartered carrier told its employees on Friday of the “difficult decision”, with the Hong Kong base hit hardest with 319 jobs lost. The airline has been associated with the city since the 1990s.

With scores of jobs in the aviation sector under threat, airlines are looking overseas to cut back on employment first. …

“In the current and future environment, we simply are not able to sustain an in-flight base at these locations,” United’s senior vice-president of in-flight services John Slater said.

“We recognise that closing any base places hardship on those who live near those locations.”

Affected crew members, however, would be given job opportunities in the United States, depending on eligibility.

The closures will take effect from October 1, the first day of the expiry of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a package of US$50 billion (HK$387.5 billion) in government grants and loan guarantees for US carriers. Airlines were not permitted to lay off staff before the end of September as part of the payroll aid package.

Some 300 United Airlines flight attendant roles will be lost in Tokyo and 220 in Frankfurt, out of a total of 24,000 employed globally. …

In the past, overseas cabin crew bases tended to be a popular means to keep staff costs under control, but over time, this has become increasingly expensive for airlines to maintain.

British Airways in 2018 closed its Hong Kong cabin crew base with the loss of 85 jobs. In 2015, Virgin Atlantic axed two-thirds of its flight attendants in the city, affecting senior staff but sparing junior crew members. …

Cathay Pacific closed all of its North American flight attendant bases in five cities over the past 14 months with the loss of 566 employees, more recently announcing the closure of its US bases in April.