On November 4, United Airlines sent out a remarkable email to customers where they trolled their competitors for the operational problems they’d had, and promising that United would be the carrier everyone could rely on for their holiday plans.
I wrote at the time that’s called tempting fate and – right on schedule – United’s operation appears to be melting down.
United CEO Scott Kirby wrote that because they brought their schedule back more slowly than competitors, because they kept their pilots flying throughout the pandemic instead of paying them to sit home, because they were already through their vaccine requirements and had better technology, they wouldn’t have the problems that have plagued American Airliens, Delta, Southwest, and Spirit (without naming names).
So what’s going on?
- United has cancelled 52 flights today and delayed 298 more – surpassed only by Chinese airlines (in part forced to cancel by their country’s lock downs) and Air India.
- They’ve already cancelled 110 flights for Christmas Eve Day. In contrast neither American nor Southwest have yet to cancel any. And United’s cancel numbers have been rising rapidly the past few hours.
- United is doing so poorly that it’s concealing how badly Delta is doing with 41 cancels today and 50 tomorrow so far.
Aviation watchdog JonNYC notes that United’s cancellations are heavily concentrated on their Boeing 737 operation, due to lack of pilots. While United had been bragging that they’d kept their pilots ready to fly, so wouldn’t have a shortage, JonNYC also notes that United is over 300 pilots short, placed on involuntary leave for obtaining religious exemptions to the carrier’s vaccine requirement.
“…shows 52 segment cancellations in 737 equipment for tomorrow (all coded to FK, or flight ops crew unavailable). OAG has 1,047 B737 frequencies tomorrow for UA, which puts completion factor for the fleet at 95%. “
— ˜”*° JonNYC °*”˜ (@xJonNYC) December 23, 2021
United is already starting to cancel flights for Saturday and things may get worse because,
- They certainly have more ‘open trips’ without crew assigned, they’re looking for and hoping to fill these slots, but they won’t be successful with all of them.
- Once a flight cancels for lack of crew, they’re likely to cancel additional downline flights that that crew would have operated.
- And planes are going to be out of position to fly their schedules the next day, too. It takes time to recover from out of position crew and planes.
And of course this is all happening for the holidays exactly as the airline’s CEO said it wouldn’t. He’s been doing victory laps on TV for finishing up the carrier’s vaccine mandate and talking up how the carrier hasn’t had operational nightmares the way competitors have. This was, perhaps, inevitable after marketing,
Many of you have asked if you can book with confidence on United this holiday season. And the short answer is, yes you can!
That’s because we’ve taken a unique approach to the complexity of rebuilding an airline in the midst of a pandemic
Hopefully the unique approach will allow them to stop at the tens of thousands of customers whose holiday plans are already being disrupted.
Update: United Airlines is telling employees the problem is too many Covid infections among its crew.
The "spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation. As a result, we’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights," United told staff today regarding Christmas Eve operations.
No word on how many flights. pic.twitter.com/EfMkmSjbSC
— Edward Russell (@ByERussell) December 23, 2021