American, Southwest Airlines among hardest hit by losses caused by COVID-19 pandemic

Airlines were big beneficiaries of the stimulus bill signed by the Senate.

Two of those airlines employ tens of thousands of employees in North Texas.

The relief bill provides billions of dollars to airlines at a time when air travel has plummeted to 90 percent of where it was at last year.

There are some teeth in the funding as well to ensure employees are not cut.

Among the hardest hit industries, are two of North Texas' biggest employers.

Dallas Business Journal research found that Fort Worth-based American Airlines and Dallas-based Southwest Airlines employ 43,000 people alone in North Texas, but business has stalled.

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Pictures show a number of the Southwest planes in storage in California.

“I’m a firm believer, in an economic catastrophe like this, the federal government has to play a role,” Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said.

In a video posted by the airline Thursday, Kelly spoke about the need for federal help, shortly before the stimulus bill did just that Friday.

“It’s a matter of having cash, so the first priority here once you’ve established everything is safe — the first priority is to make sure we have cash in the bank to pay the bills. If we run out of cash, then we stop operating,” Kelly added.

For those planes still flying, safety is an important factor for both passengers and crew.

Union officials confirm an American flight attendant, 65-year-old Paul Frischkorn, passed away after testing positive for the virus.

It's unclear how he contracted the virus, and he did have underlying health conditions.

It was the airline's first COVID-19 related death.

“He leaves many close friends and loved ones,” said Lori Bassani, with the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. “It just really hit home for the flight attendants and it just shed a whole new light on this virus not that it wasn’t bad before, but when it hits that close to home, it’s so important that no precaution is too much to take.”

American Airlines announced this week it has suspended certain food and beverage service.

They've also relaxed their seating policy, to allow greater space.  

“Everything we do is focused on taking care of you during these unprecedented times, we're looking forward to welcoming you back and resuming full service as soon as possible,” said Kurt Stache, senior vice president for American Airlines.

Flight attendants are doing their best to get ahold of masks they can use on flights, but they, like many others, can't find the masks.

Bassani said that at least one of their flight attendants went so far as to sew his tie into a mask, as an added layer of protection.