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Layoffs related to coronavirus have started at BWI, union leader says; D.C. and Virginia airports also hit hard

In normal times, Southwest Airlines averages 200 departures a day from Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. On Friday, responding to a drop in travel demand because of the coronavirus outbreak, the airline announced that it would drop 1,000 flights a day from its national schedule of 4,000 daily flights.
In normal times, Southwest Airlines averages 200 departures a day from Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. On Friday, responding to a drop in travel demand because of the coronavirus outbreak, the airline announced that it would drop 1,000 flights a day from its national schedule of 4,000 daily flights.(By Paul W. Gillespie / Staff)

Layoffs of skycaps and baggage handlers have started at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, according to a union official who says at least 78 workers for service companies already have been idled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Hundreds more, he says, have been laid off at Dulles International Airport in Virginia and Reagan National Airport in Washington.

“I’m afraid this is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Jaime Contreras, vice president of Service Employees International Union, Local 32BJ. “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

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The union claims that 438 workers at Dulles and another 50 at Reagan were laid off within the last week. Other workers have had their hours cut.

Companies that employ skycaps and fuel service workers at BWI could not be reached to confirm the layoffs. A spokesman for the airport said he could not confirm layoffs by private contractors.

On Thursday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan restricted access to the BWI terminal to ticketed passengers and necessary staff.

Hit with a significant drop in travel demand, airlines across the country have reduced flights. Lobbyists have asked that the industry be included in a massive financial bailout being considered in Congress. On Thursday U.S. Treasury officials proposed $50 billion in secured loans for airlines.

On Friday, Southwest Airlines said that, starting on Sunday, it would cut 1,000 of its 4,000 daily flights, including those to all international destinations. The airline said it could not provide specific information about the number of cancellations at each airport. BWI is a Southwest hub and last year the airline averaged 200 departures a day from the airport. In 2018, Southwest brought more than 18 million passengers through BWI.

Ronaldo Dingzon, an immigrant from the Philippines, has been a skycap at BWI since 2011, assigned to the Southwest terminal. His layoff was effective March 18.

Dingzon, who lives in Brooklyn, on Baltimore’s south side, says he supports his 79-year-old mother and pays her medical bills, which run between $200 and $300 a month.

“I also help my family back home in the Philippines,” said Dingzon, a naturalized U.S. citizen. “I send tuition money to my kids to help them pay for college, and I help them with their everyday needs back home, including rent, food and other costs. Losing my job will make it harder for me to help my family back home.”

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In addition to skycaps, laid-off workers include wheelchair agents, baggage handlers, men and women who clean cabins after flights and ramp workers who load and unload baggage, guide planes to gates and drive baggage carts. Some of the affected workers refuel planes, Contreras said.

“Some of them work two and three jobs at the airports to support their families,” he added. “The airlines are lobbying Congress for a bailout to prevent layoffs, but at the same time, those at the bottom need a bailout, too — mostly black and brown workers who live paycheck to paycheck, and are sadly at the end of the line when it comes to getting help.”

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