Airline CEO prepares travelers for further disruption

Airline CEO warns travelers that other carriers won’t be able to handle all the flights they plan to operate this year.

And it will cause more disruption.

United Airlines chief Scott Kirby said airlines operating as if it were still 2019, before the pandemic, are doomed.

According to Kirby, the industry is suffering from a shortage of pilots and other workers, outdated technology and pressure on the Federal Aviation Administration.

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Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines, and John Laughter, Executive Vice President of Delta Air Lines, testify before the Senate committee hearing. (Chip Somodevilla/Pool via REUTERS/Reuters Photos)

“The system just can’t handle the volume today, let alone the expected growth,” Kirby said. “There are a number of airlines that cannot meet their schedules. Customers are paying the price.”

Kirby used the problems Southwest Airlines had during the holidays without naming the carrier by name.

Southwest had to erase nearly 17,000 flights at the end of December after a winter storm disrupted the schedule and overwhelmed the airline’s crew scheduling system.

“What happened over the holidays was not a one-time weather-caused event, and it wasn’t just at an airline,” he said. Alaska, Spirit and Frontier also had double-digit percentages of canceled flights at the end of December.

A United plane taking off

A United Airlines Boeing 777 passenger plane arriving at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. (istock / iStock)

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Kirby made the remarks during the company’s fourth quarter earnings conference call with analysts and reporters.

Kirby noted the investment his airline has made in technology, has more employees per flight than before the pandemic, keeps more spare planes and doesn’t push the schedule too hard.

United Airlines

United Airlines planes are parked at the gates of Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, NJ ((AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)/AP Newsroom)

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However, these steps have increased United’s cost to travel a mile, not including fuel, by around 15% above the 2019 level.

After the close of trading on Tuesday, Chicago-based United reported fourth-quarter profit of $843 million and predicted 2023 earnings would easily beat Wall Street forecasts.

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Teleprinter Security Last Change Change %
LAU UNITED AIRLINES HOLDINGS INC. 48.86 -2.34 -4.57%

Shares of United Airlines Holdings Group Inc. lost 4.6% on Wednesday and another 1% in extended trading.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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