American Airlines flight attendant Bette Nash

ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images

American Airlines has 7,000-8,000 too many flight attendants on its payroll, according to an internal memo seen by Business Insider.

As it seeks to realign its operations and network around changing demands during the coronavirus pandemic, the airline plans to close several bases, and shrink others.

American gave furlough notices to some management and support employees this week, who will continue to be paid through September in accordance with the CARES Act, sources told Business Insider.

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American Airlines plans to reconfigure and significantly downsize staffing at some of its bases, and plans to reduce its flight attendant ranks by as many as 8,000 employees, Business Insider has learned.

In a memo sent to flight attendants at the airline, senior vice president for flight services Jill Surdek outlined the airline’s cabin crew staffing predicament, as the airline seeks to shrink and adjust its network and operations based on reduced and changing demand during the coronavirus pandemic.

The memo came as American issued some of its first furlough notices to management and support employees. Those workers will continue to be paid through September.

As flight attendants anxiously await news of furloughs, which the airline is expected to announce this month with affected employees still being paid through September 30, Surdek said that details had yet to be determined.

“The short answer is, we don’t have an answer yet,” the memo said.

However, Surdek wrote that the airline expects to be overstaffed by somewhere between 7,000 and 8,000 flight attendants, based on anticipated flying and demand in 2021. American has about 26,000 flight attendants across its system.

The airline said it plans to try and reduce the number as much as possible through various voluntary options, such as buyouts and early retirements.

“This does not mean that we’ll furlough that many flight attendants, but it’s an overage that we will need to address,” Surdek wrote.

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Additionally, the airline plans to close several of its major flight attendant bases, and resize others.

Bases in St. Louis and Raleigh-Durham will be closed in February 2021, and converted to satellites of crew bases in Dallas-Fort Worth and Charlotte, respectively. Some crewmembers will likely have to move, or commute to work by catching flights from home to their new bases, however. It was not immediately clear how many crewmembers would be affected.

The airline is also planning to adjust the size of its crew bases at other airlines, giving possible insight into the airline’s domestic and international network strategy as it reforms around the changed demand expected in the coming years.

Surdek wrote that the airline expects to see “flat to moderate growth in Washington, DC, San Francisco, and Boston. “Modest” decreases are expected at several of the airline’s biggest hubs, including Dallas-Fort Worth, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Chicago, and New York LaGuardia. “Notable” downsizing is expected in Phoenix, Miami, and Los Angeles. The airline also expects to shrink bases in Latin America.

Finally, due to low load factors on international flights — partly the result of border closures and travel restrictions in place worldwide — the airline plans to reduce cabin crew staffing on international flights, as well as some trans-continental flights.

The airline will use minimum staffing standards set by the FAA, plus one extra crewmember on all flights except those operated by Boeing 787-8 aircraft, effective October 1, 2020. That means 11 flight attendants on American’s largest widebody jet, the Boeing 777-300, and just eight on the smallest widebody jet currently in service for the airline, the 787-8. Transcontinental flights operated with an Airbus A321T will have five flight attendants.

The major US airlines received support with their payroll via the CARES Act, which restricted them from laying off, furloughing, or cutting pay of employees until after September 30. However, US airlines are expected to begin notifying furloughed employees this month, while continuing to pay them until October.

Sources tell Business Insider that American began notifying its management and support employees of furloughs earlier this week. However, due to collective bargaining agreements, the airline must work with labor unions separately before furloughing frontline employees, such as flight attendants, pilots, and baggage handlers.

In the memo, Surdek wrote that more information is expected to be available for frontline workers in the coming weeks.

“While I know this communication is a lot to take in and raises many questions, we want to provide you a holistic look at what is on the horizon as you are making decisions about your future,” Surdek wrote. “And while it may be scary to see overages this large, please know that we’re doing everything possible to mitigate or potentially eliminate the need for involuntary reductions — while keeping our costs manageable.”

American declined to comment, aside from confirming the veracity of the memo.

Do you work for an airline? Contact this reporter with tips or thoughts at dslotnick@businessinsider.com.

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