Pete Buttigieg VS. Scott Kirby: Tussle Over Travel Disruptions

by Anthony Losanno
FAA vs. UA

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Travel within the US (especially the NYC area) has been awful this week and it’s expected to continue through the busy holiday weekend. United Airlines’ CEO sent an email to employees earlier this week where he placed blame for the delays and cancellations being faced squarely on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). But, Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, United Airlines’ pilots union are pushing back on this narrative.

In Kirby’s email (posted by Live and Let’s Fly), he calls out the FAA:

I’m also frustrated that the FAA frankly failed us this weekend. As you know, the weather we saw in EWR is something that the FAA has historically been able to manage without a severe impact on our operation and customers.”

Flights Cancelled

Buttigieg pushed back in a CNN interview citing that most of the problems were unique to United. It looks like Mayor Pete is right based on the chart above. United is far surpassing all other airlines in cancellations.

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents United’s pilots agreed. Captain Garth Thompson is the chair for United ALPA. He commented:

United’s travel disruptions this week stem from one source; company senior management’s inadequate planning and insufficient investment in the airline infrastructure. Our pilots agree with our passengers that this lack of foresight and disregard of warning signs is unacceptable. It’s time for United leadership to change their thinking and invest in its labor, staff support, and facilities with updated contracts instead of ensuring our CEO has the highest salary.”

United’s pilots are in the midst of a bitter contract battle with the carrier. United seems to know that they need to get back on track and has offered flight attendants up to 300% pay to work the upcoming holiday weekend that the TSA says will be the busiest ever (more here).

United EWR

The airline has clearly stretched itself too thin and its overzealousness is hitting it the worst in its Newark Liberty International (EWR) hub.

If this issue was impacting every airline serving the NYC area it would be one thing, but when all of them are mostly functioning as best they can through summer storms, you have to look at United. Reports of flight attendants sleeping on cots and waiting 18 hours to speak to crew scheduling to know when they’re working can also be blamed on bad management. We’ll have to wait and see if things improve this weekend or the airline reaches a critical mess like Southwest did in December.

Anthony’s Take: United bit off more than it could chew and then got burned with a mix of bad weather, congestion, crew scheduling issues, and packed planes during the summer. It will be interesting if United can turn this around or if they’ll continue to look to point fingers.

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