United Airlines said yesterday it would lay off 1,500 managers and other nonunion employees by Jan. 19 as part of an attempt to slash costs while the financially ailing carrier reorganizes in bankruptcy court.
The nation's second-largest airline also said that by Jan. 28 it would close its remaining 32 walk-in reservation and sales offices, including two in the Washington area, resulting in an additional 188 layoffs of workers represented by the International Association of Machinists union.
"Our research has shown that an increasing percentage of our customers are utilizing more cost-effective methods to buy their tickets," Dan Walsh, vice president of sales, said in a statement. Instead of traveling to a storefront ticket center, "more and more customers are buying tickets online or calling United reservations," he said.
January will be a particularly tough month for United employees, as more than 2,700 workers worldwide are losing their jobs.
The airline, which filed for bankruptcy protection Dec. 9, is seeking $2.4 billion in annual wage cuts to meet demands from lenders who have agreed to finance the carrier during its restructuring. It must get those cuts by Feb. 15 to qualify for an additional $700 million in bank loans it needs to operate during bankruptcy.
Beginning Tuesday, United plans to use United Express planes instead of its regular planes for service to Eugene and Medford, Ore.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and White Plains and Syracuse, N.Y. This action will result in the furlough of about 150 employees. The United Express service will be provided by Atlantic Coast Airlines, SkyWest and Air Wisconsin.
It also will close stations in Caracas, Venezuela; Santiago, Chile; and Dusseldorf, Germany. The last flights to those cities will depart Monday.
United said some of the workers being laid off from union jobs may be called back to work if business picks up.
Airline spokesman Joe Hopkins declined to comment on where the 1,500 job cuts announced yesterday would be made or on how many employees would be affected by the closing of United's "city ticket offices" in Rockville and at the K Street location in Washington.
Douglas E. Abbey, an aviation consultant at AvStat Associates Inc. in Washington, said the ticket offices, while a nice customer service, have become less relevant as more passengers book tickets online.
"This is in essence the synopsis of the airline product . . . of how airlines are now interacting with travelers," Abbey said of the walk-in store closures. "You can wrap this into America West charging people for meals. Anything that isn't absolutely critical to generate revenue is perceived to be a cost-cutting element."