United’s passengers got stuck, but its CEO flew in on a private jet

United Airlines appeared to be returning to normal operations on Friday after a week-long struggle to recover from flight delays and cancellations ahead of the busy Fourth of July holiday.

The airline’s unrest began last weekend in the New York area. At the time, United blamed thunderstorms, a lack of staff, and a lack of experience with federal air traffic control. Other airlines suffered flight delays and cancellations at the time, too, but by Wednesday, United’s problems came to the fore as it spread to its operations across the country.

Adding to the airline’s bad publicity, the company’s CEO, Scott Kirby, on Wednesday boarded a private plane to Denver, where the company’s aviation hub is located, from Teterboro Airport near Newark Liberty International Airport, one of United’s largest airports. interlocutor. The airline said it did not pay for the trip, and in a statement Friday, Kirby said he regretted taking the trip.

“Taking a private jet was the wrong decision because it was insensitive to our customers who were waiting to go home,” he said. “I sincerely apologize to our customers and team members who have worked around the clock for days – often due to inclement weather – to take care of our customers.”

United’s troubles have started to improve in recent days. After canceling more than a quarter of its flights on Tuesday and Wednesday, United canceled about 19 percent of its schedule on Thursday and about 8 percent by late Friday afternoon, according to FlightAware, a flight-tracking company. However, the number of flights canceled by the airline in those two days exceeded cancellations by other airlines.

United expressed optimism about his recovery on Friday. In a statement, the airline said that storms can be a challenge along the East Coast and in Denver and Chicago, but that United was “ready” for the busy weekend.

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“Our credibility continues to improve, with far fewer cancellations today than in previous days,” United said.

Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Transportation, He singled out the airline on Twitter On Thursday, we shared a graph that showed other airlines had recovered from bad weather earlier in the week while United had not.

On Monday, Mr. Kirby told employees in a memo that the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees air traffic control and is part of the Department of Transportation, had “failed” United over the weekend. Likewise, Mr. Kirby blamed air traffic control for the delays last summer, and later apologized to Mr. Buttigieg for the way he described the criticism in a letter to employees.

This week was one of the busiest periods for air travel in years. The Transportation Security Administration reported screening more than 2.7 million people Thursday, one of its busiest days since 2019. Only four other days have been busier since the pandemic began, all in recent weeks. AAA Travel Club He said expected Nearly 4.2 million people travel by air this weekend, up 6.6 percent from 2019.

Throughout the week, United passengers reported having to sleep in airports and stand in line for hours to rebook flights. Some travelers said they had to wait days for checked bags to be retrieved.

Elizabeth Rodriguez, who was traveling with her 12-year-old son, said in an interview Friday that it took days longer than expected to get home to Fairfax, Virginia, from Texas. On Wednesday morning, just hours before they were scheduled to board a United flight from San Antonio International Airport, they were notified by text and through the airline’s mobile app that the flight had been canceled due to issues with crew scheduling.

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When Mrs. Rodriguez called customer service to rebook, she was told there was a two hour wait. With no other flights available to the Washington area that day, I booked a flight online departing the next day via Houston. After it touched down in Houston on Thursday night, its flight to Reagan National Airport was repeatedly delayed until Friday morning.

“United Airlines handled this week badly, was poorly prepared and failed to be transparent with passengers throughout the entire process,” said Ms. Rodriguez. She added that the tested gate agents gave many reasons for the misfortune, including crew scheduling issues, weather, and mechanical problems.

Ms. Rodriguez, who paid for the room herself, said the airline provided hotel vouchers to only some of the passengers on her flight. Her flight finally departed on Friday morning, 15 hours after the original departure time.

“I am so frustrated with the delay, but more so with the way they treat people at the airport,” she said. “I don’t know if I will use United again.”

Her indignation was similar to what Southwest Airlines passengers felt over the winter break. Southwest canceled more than 10,000 flights in the four days after Christmas, or about 46 percent of its schedule. On United’s worst day this week, Tuesday, it canceled nearly 800 flights, or about 28 percent of its schedule.

The turbulence left pilots and flight attendants frustrated, too. Many had to wait hours for reassignment after flights were cancelled. And according to social media posts, some flight attendants slept at airports as well.

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“The weather last weekend affected everyone, but United is the only airline still struggling to recover, and we know why,” said Ken Diaz, president of the United Chapter of the Flight Attendants Association-CWA, which represents more than 25,000. United flight attendant, he said in a statement Thursday. “United management’s failure to recruit crew organizers, flight attendant support staff, and more exacerbated these operational issues.”

Diaz said United had “lost” crews in its system for several days due to the crash. He also said the union had warned management last year of problems that could contribute to further disruptions, but that the airline had “launched” an ambitious flight schedule this summer. Mr Diaz said United used some of the union’s recommendations to get around the current disruption, including making changes to its schedule and agreeing to pay flight attendants three times their normal salary to pick up flights through next Thursday.

The pilots expressed similar frustrations.

“It is United Airlines management that is failing our loyal customers by ignoring warning signs and failing to plan properly,” said Capt. Garth Thompson, president of the United Branch of the Airline Airline Pilots Association, which represents more than 15,000 of the airline’s union pilots. Air Force pilots said in a statement.

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