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'We are in the fight of our lives': American president tells employees demand will get worse

"While these steps are unparalleled in our history, we expect demand to fall even more before it gets better."
Credit: AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
American Airlines' first Boeing 787 Dreamliner prepares to depart O'Hare International Airport, Thursday, May 7, 2015, in Chicago.

American Airlines President Robert Isom was unequivocal when characterizing how dark a time this is for the company.

"We are in the fight of our lives, and we will win," Isom said in a letter to employees Thursday. "Now is the time to come together and rally against a common enemy."

Isom echoed how other airline executives have expressed the dire circumstances to their employees surrounding the decline commercial aviation has seen due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

"The velocity and the severity of the decline is breathtaking," said Southwest CEO Gary Kelly last week.

RELATED: American to fly first scheduled cargo-only flight since 1984

"In this unpredictable environment we can't take any options off the table," said Delta CEO Ed Bastian on March 18.

Fort Worth-based American Airlines Group Inc. (Nasdaq: AAL) is taking several steps to try and weather the storm. The company already said last weekend it was slashing international long haul flying to a daily flight between DFW and Miami to London, and three weekly flights between DFW and Tokyo.

RELATED: Southwest canceling 1,000 daily flights starting Sunday

American is reducing its domestic schedule 30 percent in April — a 55,000-flight reduction — and even more so in May, Isom said in Thursday's letter. Also, American will park approximately 130 widebody aircraft and 320 narrowbody planes. The company is looking at making more cuts as demand for travel continues to drop.

"While these steps are unparalleled in our history, we expect demand to fall even more before it gets better," Isom said.

RELATED: Southwest, American adjust customer policies

With a smaller schedule, American needs fewer employees. This week, the carrier started offering unpaid leave to almost all employees, and several paid leave options for pilots.

American has more than 130,000 employees with 33,000 working in North Texas. The company is the largest employer in Dallas-Fort Worth, according to Dallas Business Journal research.

RELATED: COVID-19 pandemic forces American Airlines to retire aircraft, offer unpaid employee leave

American has begun offering voluntary leave options for management and support staff, Isom said. This comes after the company sent a letter to employees Tuesday saying the unpaid leave options were not being offered "broadly to management and support staff."

RELATED: United Airlines warns of massive layoffs without federal aid

Isom said Thursday because of the company's hiring freeze, it will discontinue its current flight attendant class. Those people will have first-in opportunity when demand eventually returns.

Chairman and CEO Doug Parker remains in Washington, D.C., as part of a group of airline CEOs seeking financial assistance from the government.

"Our future starts with all of us providing essential air service to keep our country moving, taking care of each other and our customers, and building for a brighter day," Isom told employees. "Thank you for your incredible spirits and courage as we all fight for our future."