United plans to shutter three overseas flight attendant bases as international travel suffers

Key Points
  • International travel has been especially hard-hit by the coronavirus.
  • Travel restrictions and shelter-in-place orders have hurt demand for international flights.
  • United is closing its flight attendant bases in Frankfurt, Tokyo and Hong Kong.
A Boeing 777-222(ER) passenger plane belonging to the United Airlines taking off at Hong Kong International Airport on August 08 2018 in Hong Kong, Hong Kong.
Marcio Rodrigo | Getty Images

United Airlines plans to close three of its four foreign flight attendant bases in October as international air travel continues to struggle because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Chicago-based airline will close bases in Hong Kong, Tokyo's Narita airport and Frankfurt, according to a company memo seen by CNBC. United said about 840 flight attendants work in the three bases that are closing.

"This was certainly a very difficult decision to make, and we recognize that closing any base places a hardship on those who live near those locations," John Slater, United's senior vice president of inflight services, said in the memo. "In the current and future environment, we simply are not able to sustain an Inflight Base at these locations."

Flight attendants at those locations will be given the chance to transfer to U.S. bases, depending on work eligibility, the memo said.

United also has a flight attendant base for London's Heathrow Airport and a base for U.S. territory Guam.

"While no other base changes are anticipated [at] this time, we'll continue to evaluate the viability of all locations based on the network schedule, government travel restrictions and restoration of demand," said Slater.

The United chapter of the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents the airline's roughly 24,000 cabin crew members called the announcement "a shock for all of us" and said "it will create tremendous uncertainty."

Watch CNBC's full interview with new United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby
Watch CNBC's full interview with new United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby