The New Head Of The United Airlines Pilots Union Must Resign Immediately

The United Airlines pilots union is having one meltdown of a month. After literally turning their backs on CEO Scott Kirby, who came out to speak with them about their grievances – and right after going on TV to talk about the need to pay his airline’s pilots more – they’ve elected a man to head their union who is unfit for the job.

The Air Line Pilots Association negotiated a new contract with the airline. Seeing pilots at other airlines getting more than they had negotiated they ripped up the agreement rather than sending it to their members. And many United pilots now want a fight with the airline.

But just-elected Captain Neil Swindells is the wrong person to lead them, because he cannot represent the full membership of his union.

As documented by Live and Let’s Fly, Captain Swindells lacks the temperament to lead. He has taken to online forums – including very recently – making misogynistic and heterosexist comments about his fellow pilots.

His online commentary includes gems such as,

Continuing to get your gay man on today, I see. Brava! And if my Aunt had a penis she’d by my Uncle!

…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!!!

He’s also written in incendiary language I will not reproduce, describing the graphic and gruesome painful death he wishes upon United’s controversial pilot class of 1985 which was hired in the midst of a strike over 37 years ago (many of which have since retired).

Regarding CEO Kirby, he wrote “continuing to get your gay man on today” and he’s denigrated other union leaders as “A Paddy, a WOP and a Jew.” (Similar comments forced President Reagan’s interior secretary to resign.)

These aren’t youthful indiscretions, they’re comments made over the past several months that Captain Swindells hasn’t sought to walk back. Instead he’s known among his colleagues as intolerant in the cockpit, and he was elected based on a bare majority vote of the union’s executive council not of the membership. And no one is suggesting he lose his job (although intolerance in the cockpit could well represent a safety risk, given the importance the union emphasizes in two-person cockpits where pilots work together). Instead he simply should not continue as Master Chair of the union.

As the Master Chair of the United Master Executive Council of ALPA, Swindells gets a board seat at the airline. Not only is he unable to represent all of his pilot members equally, he shouldn’t represent shareholders in the board room.

At Live and Let’s Fly, a number of commenters rushed to Captain Swindells’ defense – suggesting that a rogue ‘woke’ pilot was out to smear the man with ‘out of context’ comments he made (though that site reproduced full messages). In fact the idea that he’s universally supported, except by a few rogue pilots, is false. His election was controversial even inside the pilot union itself. Here’s a message just sent to members from Captain Noel Ojeda (Chair, Council 34), Captain Jake Eve (Vice-Chair, Council 34) and Captain Amy Jayo (Secretary/Treas., Council 34):

Council 34 Pilots,

As you know, we are in special session at the MEC this Monday and Tuesday, electing a new Master Chair (MC), and conducting other critical business. In what we consider a rushed process for recruiting, only two candidates, Captain Rick Cameron and Captain Neil Swindells, had any support at the MEC.

Both candidates had five minutes for a speech and ten minutes for questioning by MEC members. We received hundreds of calls, texts, and emails opposing Capt. Swindells and none in support. The common thread among the communications from you was Capt. Swindells’ postings on various forums and his treatment of pilots not agreeing with his personal opinions. At your direction, we asked Capt. Swindells very direct questions concerning his offensive posts. We were not satisfied with the answers.

In yet another disturbing twist, the questioning of Capt. Swindells was cut short by the majority element of the MEC supporting him. They knew they had the votes to elect Neil and decided to cut the process short. We simply did not have the votes to stop them.

Immediately after the vote to end questioning, the election resulted in a 9-8 vote with Capt. Swindells as our next MC. Mike Hamilton resigned and Capt. Swindells took the gavel immediately.

While the election is not the outcome you directed or we desired, it is reality. We work at your direction and Capt. Swindells works at our direction. Collectively, you’ve told us our focus shall remain bringing you an industry leading contract as well as continued representation of C34 pilots.

Captain Swindells must resign his position immediately, because he cannot effectively represent his membership. He clearly doesn’t have the best interests of some of them in mind. He fails to hold his tongue, making him an ineffective leader. And he needlessly antagonizes leadership of the airline which will make him ineffective both at the bargaining table and in the board room. Of course, United pilots don’t have a recent history of electing the best or brightest.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary

    I just want to say how much I appreciated this post about new United union leader. I live in SF and am 1K with United. As a gay, black man it’s beyond disturbing that he was elected to lead the United Pilots. But as other commenters have mentioned that group has not conducted themselves very well over the years.

    Please keep up the good work and keep shining a light on intolerance, ignorance and arrogance. All of us deserve to feel safe and welcome when we fly, in fact, they’re supposed to be the Friendly Skies.

    Happy holidays to one and all.

  2. Wow. I’m literally changing my flight plans to Delta as we speak. I will not spend my money on a company with leaders like this man. Thank you for the heads up.

  3. @ Tim Dunn

    Useful info – thanks for sharing.

    “UAL’s MEC knew of the comments that their new President made BEFORE they voted for him.”

    Yes, but, President or Chair? And what actual role and what executive power does it bestow?

    Is not a pilot survey (of members) an obvious and promising start?

  4. @ Chris T

    “find it ridiculous that people are saying that because someone that saying something in a “private forum” that is offensive, racist, homophobia, sexist or otherwise makes it okay because it was private.”

    Not sure which posts you are referring to – my own original post above pointed out that the article used as the basis for Gary’s take on this (Live and Lets Fly) reproduced Twitter posts (actually leaned heavily upon) from a pilot who was critical of the new appointment derived from a closed Twitter account and not a public one.

    “When someone tells you who they are, believe them” That goes for whether they say it publicly, and doubly so when they say it and think it’s private”

    I dunno – I joke about all sorts of stuff privately with close friends that some folk would undoubtedly find offensive if released into the public domain – I don’t regard that such jokes define my ” actions in challenging racism, sexism and various forms of discrimination.

  5. The great British writer, C. S. Lewis, said, “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”

    What people do in private does matter. It is who they are.

    I’m thankful this holiday season that due to technology we now see more of what people do and say in private. From comments like Swindells made in private to the actions that police and other authorities take in “private” when they don’t know that they are being filmed or taped.

    Again Gary is to be celebrated for raising this, flagging it and sharing it.

    Happy Holidays to one and all, here’s to more peace on earth.

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