United Airlines chief executive Scott Kirby has reassured frequent flyers that they can trust the Chicago-based carrier with their holiday travel as staffing woes plague rivals and analysts predict a scrappy period for air travel over the next few months.
In an email sent to some of United’s most valued frequent flyers, Kirby confidently proclaimed that his airline would not suffer the same kind of operational meltdown that has hit American Airlines and Southwest in recent weeks.
Delta has also faced staffing shortages and Spirit suffered its own operational meltdown in August. The meltdowns are often triggered by external factors like bad weather that exposes an operation running with little resilience built-in.
The likes of American and Southwest have taken advantage of resurgent demand for air travel by adding back capacity as quickly as possible but stretching resources, sometimes to breaking point. Southwest took a $75 million hit from its operational meltdown last month.
Kirby, however, says United won’t suffer the same setback because the airline has “taken a unique approach to the complexity of rebuilding an airline in the midst of a pandemic”.
“After dramatically cutting our schedule at the start of the pandemic, we knew it would be really hard to try and bring it all back at once,” Kirby told frequent flyers. “That’s why we gradually added flights over time.”
“Our North Star in this recovery is making sure we do the right thing for customers and if that means sacrificing some possible short-term profits to ensure a reliable operation then so be it.”
In contrast, Southwest has been forced to slash its overly ambitious schedule over the holiday period, while American Airlines is racing to hire thousands of new workers including 600 new hire flight attendants who will come online by the end of December.
The Dallas Forth Worth-based airline is also recalling 1,800 flight attendants from long-term leave to keep up with demand and prevent a repeat of last weekend’s chaos that saw the carrier cancel thousands of flights.
But taking another swipe at its rivals, Kirby noted that United was suffering far fewer unruly passenger incidents than other U.S.-based carriers, attributing the safer onboard environment to flight attendants who have managed to de-escalate “the small number” of unruly passenger incidents.
“We now have less than one mask incident per 100,000 passengers, down 50% since the start of the year,” Kirby explained.
Some analysts attribute United’s success in de-escalating unruly passenger situations to the hard lessons the airline learnt following the Dr David Dao assault incident in 2017.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.