United is giving vacationers affected by delays a present of 30,000 frequent flyer miles
United AirlinesCEO Scott Kirby said that without additional gates, the airline would have to shorten or change its flight schedules to cope with frequent congestion at its hub in Newark, New Jersey. The airline donated 30,000 frequent flyer miles to customers hardest hit by the chaos.
“This has been one of the most operationally challenging weeks I’ve experienced in my entire career,” Kirby said in a statement to employees on Saturday.
He said the airline needed more gates at Newark Liberty International Airport due to frequent aircraft backlogs there. “We need to keep changing/reducing our schedule to have even more free goals and buffers – especially during thunderstorm season,” he added. United did not provide any further details on the fixture cuts.
A day earlier, Kirby had apologized for taking a private jet from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey while thousands of passengers were stranded, CNBC first reported on Friday.
The troubles began last weekend with a series of thunderstorms in some of the country’s most congested airspaces along the east coast, blocking air traffic. While most airlines recovered, United’s troubles continued through the week, angering both customers and crews. United and JetBlue Airways Executives said problems with air traffic control had exacerbated the disruptions.
Kirby explained the week-long issues and said long-term changes were needed. He said the severely delayed departures that have been piling up at the Newark hub since last weekend were affecting operations. From Sunday to Tuesday, launches were delayed by as much as 75% and exceeded 8 hours in some cases.
“Airlines, including United, are simply not designed to have their largest hub severely constrained for four days and still operate successfully,” he wrote.
Aircraft and crew were then out of position, which is common during severe weather and can trigger a cascade of disruption to customers.
Unions complained that crew members had to wait hours for assignments and hotels, forcing them to stay longer at the airport.
Ken Diaz, president of United’s branch of the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents the company’s cabin crew, said in a note to members on Friday that the airline was short of workforce planners. He said the problems had gotten so severe over the past week that flight planners weren’t sure which city each team was in.
Kirby said United needed to improve platforms so teams could get tasks and accommodation more easily through their app and said last week’s events were unacceptable.
Kirby called for more investment in the FAA and air traffic control to avoid delays and staff shortages, some of which have occurred after hiring and training was halted early in the pandemic.
United sent the 30,000 miles to customers who were delayed overnight or didn’t reach their destination at all, a spokeswoman said. She would not say how many customers received the email.
The amount is enough to redeem a domestic ticket for a round trip to many destinations. However, the required miles vary depending on the demand for the flight or route.
More than 42,000 U.S. flights arrived late from last Saturday through Friday and more than 7,900 were canceled — or more than 5% of airline schedules — a rate that was more than triple the previous year’s average, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware . Data from FlightAware shows that United underperformed its peers, with about half of its main flight schedule arriving late and almost a fifth being canceled during that period.
According to FlightAware, United’s flight operations improved on Sunday, but disruptions continued with 464 delays, about 9% of the main flight schedule, and 100 others, or 3%, being cancelled. That was nearly 4,200 flight delays in the US and 550 cancellations.
As of Saturday, nearly 1,000 United flights were delayed, more than a third of the flight schedule, and 69 were canceled.