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Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, during a Sept. 9 protest outside the Capitol. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The clock is ticking for tens of thousands of anxious airline employees, who face mass reductions when the government's current payroll support program expires on Sept. 30.

Where it stands: Airline CEOs met Thursday with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who said President Trump would support an additional $25 billion from Congress to extend the current aid package through next March.

  • But lawmakers remain deeply divided over a broader economic relief package, and it's not clear they'll act on any stimulus deal before the November election.

What they're saying: “I never thought I’d say $25 billion was a small number, but compared to $1.5 trillion, it’s a rather small amount of additional assistance that could potentially keep 30,000 to 50,000 workers on the payroll,” Meadows told reporters after the meeting.

  • Help for airlines was not part of a last-ditch, $1.5 trillion stimulus bill proposed earlier this week by a bipartisan group of House members known as the Problem Solvers Caucus.
  • Meadows said the White House has looked at a "number of options" involving executive actions, but "all of them are less than ideal."
  • "There's a few things that we could do but I don't know that it actually solves the problem of curtailing furloughed workers," he said.

The big picture: U.S. airlines were on their way to another strong year when the pandemic hit, halting most air traffic and causing airline revenue to evaporate overnight.

  • Under the initial CARES Act passed by Congress in April, airlines received $25 billion to keep planes flying and workers on the payroll during the crisis.
  • At the same time, airlines have slashed costs and reduced staff through voluntary buyouts and furloughs, while raising debt in public markets and using their frequent flyer programs as collateral.

But the public health crisis has persisted and air travel shows no signs of a recovery.

  • Today, U.S. passenger volumes are still running 65% below last year, according to Airlines for America.
  • “In March, we all hoped to be in a very different place by now," said Sara Nelson, president of the flight attendants' union. "But as the U.S. continues to lead the world in cases and deaths, (global) aviation demand is still down 85% and we are cut off from the rest of the world."

Airlines are bending over backward to lure travelers back, with enhanced cleaning procedures and the elimination of unpopular fees for changing or canceling flights.

  • Mask policies are being strictly enforced — with the threat of a lifetime ban for passengers who fail to comply.
  • And many airlines have extended a promise to keep middle seats open to promote social distancing.
  • Some are adding flights from northern cities to warm weather destinations this winter to entice passengers to travel.

Yes, but: With the peak leisure travel season over and virtually no business travel happening, airlines — and their employees — face a grim deadline in less than two weeks.

  • American Airlines plans to cut 19,000 employees and United warned of more than 16,000 cuts.
  • Delta Air Lines said enough flight attendants, service reps and baggage handlers volunteered to leave that it should be able to avoid involuntary furloughs. Some 2,000 pilots are still at risk, however.

Go deeper

Boeing expects to sell fewer planes over the next decade

(Photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images)

Boeing expects demand for commercial airplanes over the next decade to be 11 percent lower than what it was forecasting just a little over a year ago — a direct result of the economic shock from the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Yes, but: Long-term growth rates should return after 2030, the company said Tuesday.

Why it matters: The pandemic upended what had been a long, steady ascent for the global aviation industry, with U.S. domestic passenger traffic down 70 percent and by as much as 90 percent internationally.

House Republicans reject Trump-backed $2,000 COVID relief proposal

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill on Dec. 20, 2020. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is bringing Congress back to the Capitol on Monday to vote on a proposal to hike coronavirus relief payments to $2,000, after Republicans rejected a move to approve the measure by unanimous consent.

Why it matters: The long-shot attempt came after President Trump suggested he wouldn't sign the coronavirus relief bill — which includes a trillion-dollar government funding measure to avoid a government shutdown on Monday — unless Congress increased the direct payments from $600 to $2,000.

Updated 26 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker