Irish airline Aer Lingus is in the midst of severance talks with 61 cabin crew in the United States as the airline plans terminate a service it operates in a joint venture with United Continental.

Acording to the Irish Independent, in 2010 Aer Lingus and United, which merged with Continental the same year, formed a partnership to operate a daily flight between Washington DC and Madrid, Spain.

Aer Lingus provided the one aircraft used on the route and hired dozens of US staff as cabin crew, and seconded 16 of its pilots from Dublin to crew the Washington-Madrid route, while United sold the tickets for the route and marketed it.

According to the Independent, the service has been profitable for the Irish carrier. However, the move sparked controversy in the US. With the help of unions earlier this year, the cabin crew argued for the same pay and benefits that colleagues in both United and Aer Lingus were receiving.

Pilots from United picketed outside the White House earlier this week.The pilots have been trying to negotiate new contracts with the airline, and they claim that Unites is offshoring jobs with the Aer Lingus joint venture. United Continental has told Aer Lingus it is exiting the partnership the end of October, but would continue to retain a codeshare agreement with Aer Lingus.

According to the Irish Independent, an Aer Lingus spokesman said that both airlines had an option to cancel the agreement at three months' notice and that Aer Lingus respected United's decision to do so. He added that the 16 pilots it used on the service would be returning to duties in Dublin.

The spokesman declined to comment on severance pay for the cabin crew, saying only that the airline was "in discussions" with the affected staff members.

Aer Lingus