Two leading House Democrats want a federal investigation into whether airlines used any of the $54 billion they received in pandemic relief to encourage employees to quit.
The lawmakers on Friday asked the Treasury Department's inspector general to examine whether money that was intended to keep airline workers on the payroll instead went to buyouts or early-retirement offers.
After air travel plunged in early 2020, airlines offered incentives that encouraged tens of thousands of workers to quit or take long-term leaves of absence. The airlines were caught understaffed when travel bounced back strongly this spring and summer, contributing to higher-than-normal levels of canceled and delayed flights.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee, and Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), chairman of a special panel on the government's response to the pandemic, requested an investigation.
"American taxpayers supported the airline industry during its darkest days at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, when nearly 75% of commercial flights were grounded. Americans deserve transparency into how airlines have used the federal funds they have received," the lawmakers said in a letter to Richard Delmar, deputy inspector general of the Treasury Department, which handled taxpayer relief to businesses affected by the pandemic.
U.S. air travel actually fell about by 95% during part of April 2020, compared with the same month a year earlier, according to government figures. The number of passengers has since nearly fully recovered to 2019 levels.