United Airlines Pilots Literally Turn Their Back On Scott Kirby When He Showed Up To Speak With Them

United Airlines came to an agreement on a contract with its pilots union. The union saw that other airlines were putting richer deals on the table, and the contract wouldn’t have support of the pilot membership, so it was pulled.

CEO Scott Kirby went on television and declared that the richer pilots deal that Delta’s union got was a good thing and would be a pattern for other airlines to match, paying pilots more. He argued higher pilot pay across the industry is great – because it hurts low cost competitors more.

It’s taken awhile to get pilot contracts, but there was a pandemic and frankly the value of a pilot to the industry has fluctuated quite a lot. Pilots weren’t driving profits in 2020! And then, with too many paid to retire, there weren’t enough to bring back as much flying as airlines could sell.

However United even did a deal with pilots during the pandemic to keep them all employed, buying off senior pilots to be able to help both junior pilots and the airline with – among other things – first class seats that used to go to customers as upgrades.

So it wasn’t surprising to see Kirby personally go down to meet picketing pilots during the airline’s board meeting in Houston. And it was a terrible look to see those pilots turn their backs on the CEO. And then for the union to brag about it!

Listen to pilots talk publicly, posturing in contract negotiations, it’s a grueling career that no one should want. Privately, though, many realize that they’re hardly the exploited working class, earning six figures and being entrusted with $100 million machines. Flying 80 hours a month is a pretty good job, and many also build side businesses in their time off (insurance is a common one).

There are absolutely legitimate beefs about the pilot lifestyle. If you have a family you spend a lot of time apart from them. If your airline is operationally unsound you wind up in cities you never expected to be flying to. And you may not even get your hotel scheduled properly (take matters into your own hands, book the room yourself, and fight for reimbursement which might take months). The display by United’s pilots, though, when Scott Kirby came personally seeking rapprochement, was seriously unbecoming.

I wonder if union leadership ever watched The West Wing? The Speaker of the House refusing to negotiate – or meet with – President Bartlet was a turning point in the administration’s power, turning public opinion. Remember that United’s comms chief used to be White House spokesman under Obama.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. I’ve had my differences in the past with this guy, especially the way he runs his business, but man…this is a little over the top! This is simply humiliating.

  2. Neither airline management nor labor groups is held in high public esteem. There’s no store of political goodwill for either side to tap.

  3. let’s be clear that line of United employees didn’t include just pilots and the tweet includes other labor groups.
    Kirby arrogantly said that he would get the first major pilot agreement signed and he would get all of the available growth pilots for the industry at United and the rest of the carriers would be left with just enough to cover retirements.
    He was actively involved in negotiations and the pilots roundly rejected the proposed contract along with large portions of their pilot leadership that even sent the contract to them.
    American helped sink the UAL contract vote by raising their contract offer by just a couple percentage just as the United pilots started voting.
    And now Delta has put twice as much money per year on the table to its pilots and there are anecdotes that pilots are already walking away from their job offers at multiple carriers at United and other carriers to go with Delta.

    And let’s also not forget that Congress has not approved the exemption for Boeing to put EICAS on the 737 MAX 7 and MAX 10 and there are dozens of the latter built but unable to deliver for United as well as MAX7s to Southwest.

    Not only is United labor not happy with Kirby but Boeing won’t be able to deliver many MAXs that are part of the United NEXT growth strategy that Kirby cooked up

  4. People are shocked that pilots turned their back on CEO Kirby in contract negotiations. Just imagine how things would go in a strike or lockout if an airline tried to replace its pilots with “scabs” (or even just made preparations to replace them).

  5. How dare they disrespect Kirby–don’t they know he is doing everything he can to become a good woke socialist and lapdog for the democrat party??? He just needs to learn to share all the free billions in government $ with the workers (and the 10% for the big guy)

  6. @jcil – Go Google “airlines bailout Trump”. It’ll show you who gave the airlines billions. You betcha bigly.

  7. Of course they turned their backs. The arilines make billions and pay poorly. View from the wing is probably receiving funding from the airlines for this antiworker propaganda.

  8. Kirby is a soulless bean counter whose legion decisions were almost always to the detriment of the flying public and/or employees. He undid a lot of the good work Oscar accomplished.

    That said, I think the optics of the pilots literally turning their backs on him are bad. A little little public decorum would help the pilots a lot more than childish displays.

  9. There is absolutely nothing wrong or impolite about the pilots turning their backs on Fuhrer Kirby. He represents a management that has consistently
    lied to, deceived, and tried to kill their Union, damage their livelihood. and reduce UA to junk status. Turning their backs was polite and classy. Throwing tomatoes and telling him to “screw off” would have been a bit much.

  10. Yes, this is shameful. Not a fan of UA at all, and really dislike Kirby, especially since he makes everything into politics, but there is a line of public-facing respect for all leaders. It’s just something a professional does. I expect better out of pilots. This was a political move and a photo-opp. It looks tacky and reflects much more on pilots than the man I don’t care as much for as the people of whom I am usually in awe for what they do.

Comments are closed.