United CEO Scott Kirby: Air Travel Systems ‘Stressed’

by Derick SullivanJanuary 27, 2023


United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby has acknowledged the recent service problems experienced by airlines and stated that more support must be in place to prevent similar issues in the future.

Evgenia Parajanian | Shutterstock

In an interview with CNN, Kirby said it’s impossible to “run an airline like it’s 2019, and the reason is because the system is just stressed to the max.” Kirby said stress is apparent “everywhere, whether it’s in security or FAA staffing or systems.”

“Across the board, there are strains in the system,” Kirby told CNN’s Christine Romans. “Aircraft manufacturers delivering, having enough pilots and all of those stresses and strains means that the system is tighter.” Additionally, external factors like severe winter weather resulted in hundreds of flights being cancelled — a problem that significantly impacted Southwest Airlines.

To combat these issues, Kirby said his company had boosted the number of backup planes and staff by 10% for every block hour compared to pre-pandemic levels. He indicated United also has “25% more spare airplanes, and really across the board, we’re just having more buffer and more resources that gives us the ability to firewall when something happens.”

United Airlines has also taken additional steps to remedy staffing issues like a pilot shortage by establishing Aviate, the first pilot training academy launched by an airline based in the United States.

Fares, however, are still higher than before the pandemic. Kirby indicated he believes consumers can still find bargains, though, telling CNN that travelers “could still often pay less for…airfare than the Uber to get you to the airport costs.”


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