United Airlines to Furlough More Than 16,000 Employees in October

More than 16,000 United Airlines employees are set to be furloughed next month as the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to sap the travel industry.

The airline announced the news in a letter to employees on Wednesday, saying that the involuntary furloughs are a "last resort."

"But unfortunately, all of our efforts so far to cut costs, raise debt and introduce voluntary options have not been enough to avoid involuntary furloughs entirely," the letter, obtained by PEOPLE, said.

"Today, each of our operations leaders communicated directly with their teams to share the heart-wrenching news that approximately 16,000 United employees will be notified of an involuntary furlough effective as early as October 1."

"The pandemic has drawn us in deeper and lasted longer than almost any expert predicted, and in an environment where travel demand is so depressed, United cannot continue with staffing levels that significantly exceed the schedule we fly," the letter continued. "Sadly, we don’t expect demand to return to anything resembling normal until there is a widely available treatment or vaccine."

In July, United issued a warning to nearly half of its U.S. staff that layoffs could be coming in the fall.

The airline said that the announcement of the layoffs "is an outcome that no one wanted."

"And it is sad and awful that we have to say goodbye for now to so many of our friends and colleagues," the Tuesday letter said. "But to each and every person impacted by today’s news, we want you to know that you are still a part of our United family. We look forward to welcoming you back once this crisis is over, should you choose to return."

The airline said that an extension of the CARES Act, which provided government loans to several airlines, "would be the one thing that would prevent involuntary furloughs on October 1 and hopefully delay any potential impact on employees until early 2021."

The CARES Act is currently set to expire on October 1, and Congress is still negotiating another stimulus package.

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