File photo of an almost-empty passenger plane.
Laurel Chor | Getty Images
The country’s largest airlines will have to compensate taxpayers for billions in payroll grants to weather coronavirus, the Treasury Department said Friday, leaving the door open to an aid structure that sparked criticism from labor unions, some lawmakers and industry members.
The Treasury Department has received more than 230 applications from air carriers for payroll grants as the virus and harsh measures to stop it drive down air travel demand to the lowest level in decades. Last week, United, Delta, JetBlue, Spirit and others said they applied for the aid.
Two weeks ago, Congress approved $25 billion in grants for U.S. passenger carriers, $4 billion for cargo airlines and $3 billion for airline contractors, such as caterers, in exchange for not furloughing workers or cutting their pay rates through Sept. 30. Lawmakers also approved $29 billion in loans for airlines.
The Treasury Department was supposed to…