US Airlines Are Carrying More Passengers And Hiring Fewer Employees

There aren’t nearly as many jobs at American airlines as there used to be, despite the fact that the industry is carrying more passengers than it has in years.

According to figures released by the US Department of Transportation this week, passenger airline employment in June was down 2.4% from June 2012.

The numbers were compiled by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), which attributed the decline to two factors.

First, American Airlines filed for bankruptcy in November 2011 and subsequently let go 8.4% of its full time employees.

Second, high fuel costs have pushed larger carriers to cut contracts with regional airlines, whose aircraft are less efficient. Compared to last year, regional airline employment is down 4.4%.

The numbers are part of a bigger trend: Network airlines had 1.5% fewer full-time employees in June 2013 than in June 2009 — when passenger numbers were bottoming out.

These figures come as the Department of Justice is suing to block the merger of American Airlines and US Airways, which could drive employment down further (the DOJ’s suit is based on the argument that having fewer airlines would unfairly drive up airfares, hurting consumers).

Merging two large airlines will create redundancies and likely yield layoffs. In a statement responding to the DOJ’s lawsuit, American Airlines said “employees of the combined airline will benefit from being part of a company with a more competitive and strong financial foundation.”

It did not address how many current employees at either American or US Airways would stay on board.

Nonetheless, the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA), the world’s biggest pilot union, is fully in favour the merger, saying it will create a stronger airline, and that the DOJ suit “ignore[s] decades of instability in the industry.”

Here’s the employment chart. (June numbers closely match other months so far in 2013.)

It doesn’t line up with the recent rise in passenger numbers:

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