Layoffs pending at restaurants inside Ford Airport

CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A company that runs restaurants in Gerald R. Ford International Airport has filed paperwork with the state saying it expects to have to lay off workers in October.

In a notice filed with the state Monday, HMSHost said the 84 workers have been on furlough since March, when the coronavirus pandemic caused airline passenger numbers to tank and mitigation efforts shut down restaurant dining rooms in Michigan.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the travel and restaurant industries and, unfortunately, HMSHost sits at the crossroads of both,” the company’s notice read in part. “Never in the history of aviation and the hospitality industry, have we experienced such catastrophic customer traffic declines.”

HMSHost said it had hoped business would pick back up by now, but it hasn’t and the company has come to realization that it’s going to take a while.

If workers aren’t recalled by Oct. 15, their temporary furlough will be converted to a permanent layoff, the company said.

Maryland-based HMSHost has restaurants in airports all over North America, its website says, including Starbucks, Shake Shack, Chili’s Too and Tim Hortons franchises. It also runs travel stops along several East Coast and Midwestern U.S. highways.

In May, Ford Airport just outside Grand Rapids was seeing a crushing 96% fewer fliers than the year previous. That had slowly improved to about 50% as of last week. Hoping to encourage further recovery, the airport has launched a “Fly Safe. Fly Ford” education campaign to show passengers what it’s doing to help slow the spread of the virus. It’s also testing out several tools that use UV light to kill viruses, including a robot.

Also citing the downturn of the flight industry, Sky Chefs has told the state it will have to lay off 102 workers from its Detroit Metropolitan Airport facility Oct. 1. Six workers from DTW Wine Bar at the Detroit airport are also being laid off.