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Delays in Boeing deliveries bring voluntary unpaid time off for United’s pilots

Samantha Fields Apr 4, 2024
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United Airlines has paused its hiring of pilots and is offering pilots voluntary unpaid time off in May due to Boeing aircraft production issues. Kevin Carter/Getty Images

Delays in Boeing deliveries bring voluntary unpaid time off for United’s pilots

Samantha Fields Apr 4, 2024
Heard on:
United Airlines has paused its hiring of pilots and is offering pilots voluntary unpaid time off in May due to Boeing aircraft production issues. Kevin Carter/Getty Images
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United Airlines is offering pilots voluntary unpaid time off in May and possibly beyond because of delays in getting new aircraft from Boeing. United and Southwest have also paused hiring of pilots and some other positions.

For much of the last two years, airlines have been on a hiring spree for lots of positions, especially pilots.

But “we had more pilots brought into the system in 2022 and 2023 by a massive margin compared to any prior year,” said Matt Barton at consulting firm Flightpath Economics.

That’s because there’s been a wave of mandatory retirements, he said, and also because —during the early days of COVID when almost no one was flying — airlines encouraged pilots to retire early or take buyouts.

Then, when travel demand came surging back, they were left scrambling to hire.

Now, airlines have the pilots and demand for travel is still strong, said Bob Mann, an airline industry analyst. What they don’t have, however, is enough planes.

“This is a continuation of the supply chain issues which have dogged the industry since the pandemic,” he said. “And then, in the case of Boeing, production issues which relate to both the Max and the 787.”

Boeing isn’t able to produce planes fast enough, Mann said. Airbus is having issues too. That means that airlines (including those across the pond) that were expecting a certain number of new planes this year aren’t getting them on time.

“The airlines that are getting Boeing aircraft specifically are seeing these horrendous delivery delays,” said Helane Becker at TD Cowen.

This is an issue that’s been building for a while, though Boeing’s recent woes have exacerbated it, she said. “And as a result, even though we have significant demand for air travel, the airlines are having a hard time fulfilling it because they’re not getting their aircraft in time.”

That’s why airlines including United and Southwest have paused hiring and why United is now offering pilots the option to take unpaid time off this spring.

“Because if you have people and you don’t have the aircraft for them to fly, you’re gonna see margin pressure, because you have higher salaries, wages and benefits, and you have lower earnings and lower revenue as a result,” Becker said.

All of this is going to affect customers too, she added — in the form of higher air fares.

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