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United Airlines Offers Buyout Packages To Flight Attendants

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

NPR's Business News starts with buyouts in the sky. United Airlines wants to cut costs and it's eyeing its payroll to do it starting with the most senior flight attendants. From Chicago, NPR's David Schaper reports that the airline is offering six-figure buyouts to convince the top tier attendants to walk away.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Many of us who daydream about quitting our job are quickly snapped back to reality by the panicky thought of not getting a paycheck. So getting a lump-sum payment of up to $100,000 to leave your job might seem too good to be true, but it's not for flight attendants at United Airlines.

JEFFREY TONJES: I mean, it is pretty generous.

SCHAPER: Jeffrey Tonjes, spokesman for United's flight attendants, says the buyouts will allow the airline to bring back employees laid off earlier.

TONJES: We also are recalling all of our voluntary and involuntary furloughed flight attendants back. So this announcement was huge for us.

SCHAPER: Tonjes says flight attendants must have at least 15 years on the job to be eligible. The airline says it has about 2,000 more flight attendants than it needs and estimates at least that many of the most experienced and highest paid attendants will take the buyout. And it is a good opportunity, says DePaul University professor and former flight attendant trainer Lexa Murphy, but...

LEXA MURPHY: This can maybe be a little shortsighted in that you're losing some valuable experience in the short-term to be able to save some dollars.

SCHAPER: Experience that Murphy says can be invaluable in securing the safety of passengers in certain situations. Nonetheless, United and its flight attendants are embracing the buyouts and hope the deal could pave the way to a new collective bargaining agreement. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.