The newly elected leader of the United Airlines pilots union has been forced to resign just days into the job after his appointment was marred by the publication of seemingly misogynistic online comments he had made on a private pilots forum. The messages had also been labelled racist and anti-Semitic.
On Monday, Captain Neil Swindells was elected by his colleagues as the new Master Chair of the United Master Executive Council (MEC) – a branch of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) – following the ousting of the former chair who had been in post for less than a year.
The appointment comes at a difficult time for United Airlines and its pilots as a new contract becomes ever more elusive. The vast majority of pilots had voted against a proposed contract negotiated by the previous union leadership, but Swindells had promised to personally help secure an industry-leading contract.
Within hours of his appointment, however, online comments posted by the Chicago-based Boeing 787 Dreamliner pilot on a private message board for United pilots started to be shared publicly online.
Some of the many comments posted by Swindells appeared misogynistic, while others had racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic undertones. Supporters of Swindells argued that the message screenshots, when taken in isolation, were being read out of context and did not reflect the man that they knew.
In one message, Swindells railed against a new partnership between United and Dubai-based Emirates, arguing that the Persian Gulf carrier would be ‘dominating’ the partnership.
His apparent proof of this lopsided partnership was the fact that a joint commercial between the two carriers featured a male Emirates pilot and a female United pilot.
“And I’m sure EMIRATES had NOTHING TO DO with the EMIRATES MALE CAPTAIN being flanked by a UNITED FEMALE FIRST OFFICER, either, right??? EVERY SINGLE OPTIC was DESIGNED with a nod to EMIRATES’ DOMINANCE OF THE CODESHARE, while giving UNITED their desired DEI money shot!!!” Swindells wrote.
In another comment, Swindells talked about United chief executive Scott Kirby as getting his “gay man on”, while in another, Swindells underlined a point he was making by referencing a joke with anti-Semitic undertones.
Addressing the controversy, Swindells described his online musings as “colorful, heated, and inappropriate”.
“In retrospect, I wish that I had expressed myself differently,” Swindells continued. “Those words do not represent what I stand for, and I apologize to anyone I offended… I intend to represent all pilots and am dedicated to bringing you an industry leading contract”.
But while ALPA and the union branch haven’t publicly commented on the controversy, Swindells has now resigned from his post just two days after being appointed.
Swindells admitted his position had become “untenable and a negative distraction”.
The long-serving pilot who has worked for United for more than 27 years will now return to return to flying Dreamliners out of United’s Chicago base. United has not commented on Swindell’s online comment or whether he faces an internal investigation.
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.