• JetBlue is planning to scale back its in-house workforce by outsourcing positions at smaller airports, known as outstations, according to a leaked email viewed by Business Insider.
  • Up to 300 employees are likely affected by the move, a current employee told Business Insider.
  • JetBlue is offering voluntary “opt out” programs that include free travel, healthcare, and extended pay, depending on the plan.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

An internal JetBlue Airways email sent to employees on Tuesday morning briefly outlined plans to outsource workers at smaller airports across the airline’s network and hire outside firms to perform their functions instead.

According to the email, viewed by Business Insider and verified by a current JetBlue employee, the low-cost airline plans to implement what it calls a “full Business Partner model” come October. A source within the company, whose employment was confirmed by Business Insider, said the “full Business Partner model” means laying off JetBlue staff and using outside contractors for “above and below wing positions” such as gate agents and baggage handlers.

JetBlue airports affected by the cost-cutting measure are likely to be those with low numbers of daily JetBlue flights. Outsourcing the employees at these airports would limit the number of people accessing JetBlue employment benefits such as healthcare and flight benefits which, as Business Insider’s David Slotnick reported, is a major factor for some employees to work for airlines. 

In the memo from Mike Parkinson, JetBlue’s vice president of airports experience, the company cited the effect of the novel coronavirus pandemic on the industry when outlining the upcoming changes. The transition is slated to occur on October 1, 2020, according to the email (a date looming over the aviation industry that is when financial stimulus from the CARES Act will likely evaporate).

“Nothing is really a surprise per se in this environment,” wrote a current JetBlue employee who wished to remain anonymous to Business Insider. “However, I worry how this could erode the company’s culture.” The employee was also worried that having a third-party service replace in-house employees would see the airline lose the positive reputation for customer experience JetBlue prides itself on.

The employee also told Business Insider that the move may encourage more non-union employees to join the Transport Workers Union, a division of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace. JetBlue flight attendants voted to unionize in August 2018, according to the union, and a recent reduction in worker hours has led to increased recruitment efforts, the employee told Business Insider. 

Airlines frequently outsource ground service positions at smaller airports that have more infrequent operations as it can be cheaper than employing staff internally. The source also told Business Insider that up to 300 workers, or “crewmembers” as they’re referred to at JetBlue, will likely be affected. 

Affected employees, the email states, will be offered the opportunity to transfer to other positions in the company or take advantage of “voluntary opt out programs.” Other major US airlines offering voluntary separation programs have typically offered a temporary extension of pay, healthcare, and flight benefits, among others. 

JetBlue’s voluntary departure packages, also shared with Business Insider by a current JetBlue employee, include three choices: “opt out with perks,” “opt out with cash,” and “long-term time off.” The benefits of each package vary by experience in years at the airline.

Employees with less than 10 years of experience can choose a perks or cash-based opt out plan. For them, the perks-based plan offers no pay upon departure, 12 months of health insurance, one year of flight benefits for every year served with a maximum of nine years, 20 one-way tickets with a guaranteed seat, and a host other smaller payouts, such as a $500 certificate to use with JetBlue vacations.

The cash-based plan for the same group includes continued pay, the duration of which depends on your position at the company, with the maximum being three weeks pay per year served for managers and non-managers with seven to nine years of experience. This program also includes six months of health insurance, one year of flight privileges for every year served at JetBlue with a maximum of five years, and four one-way tickets with a guaranteed seat.

Employees with greater than 10 years of experience can also take their pick between a perks or cash-based plan but the benefits are greater.  The perks-based plan offers $5,000 in pay upon departure, 24 months of health insurance, nine years of flight benefits, and 20 one-way tickets with a guaranteed seat.

If they choose the cash-based option, that includes continued pay for three weeks per years served at a maximum of 33 weeks. This program also includes 12 months of health insurance, seven years of flight privileges, and 10 positive-space one-way tickets.

Workers of a certain age and experience can also receive retiree travel benefits. 

Any employee can opt for long-term time off which includes at least nine months of separation from the airline with no pay, standard flight benefits, four positive-space one-way tickets, and health insurance for the leave’s entirety.

The transition at its smaller airports comes as JetBlue is gearing up for an overseas expansion to Europe with service to London from hubs in Boston and New York planned for 2021. This is the first time JetBlue will fly transatlantic routes and are ordering special aircraft, Airbus A321XLRs, to do it. 

The airline did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment before publication. 

Read the full text of the email here:

Dear Crewmembers,

This week we are having a number of conversations with smaller BlueCities where we have made the difficult decision to transition to a full Business Partner model after October 1, 2020. We will be able to share additional details next week after we have the opportunity to talk with impacted Crewmembers. Please know that we are partnering closely with the Airports Values Committee on these changes.

The continued impact of coronavirus on our industry has left us no choice but to look for new ways to run our airline. This decision is in no way a reflection of our Crewmembers’ level of work in those cities who live the JetBlue Culture every day and offer the JetBlue experience our Customers love. 

Taking care of impacted Crewmembers is our priority. We will make sure they have the support they need to understand the transition and to consider the options we are offering, including priority transfer opportunities to stay at JetBlue, as well as our current voluntary opt out programs. 

News like this is never easy to hear, but is a necessary step in protecting the future of our company. 

Many thanks for your continued support as we work through these changed.

Mike Parkinson

VP Airports Experience. 

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