United Airlines Stops Housing Flight Crew In City Center Hotels

With fears of civil unrest in some cities growing, United Airlines is temporarily moving its flight crews from downtown hotels to airport hotels in some US cities. And it’s not just United Airlines keeping a close eye out for potential trouble. Other US airlines are assessing the situation and will shift crews to safer locations if unrest breaks out.

United Airlines is temporarily changing its crew accommodation in some cities. Photo: Denver International Airport

United Airlines cites the possibility of civil unrest as the reason for hotel change

The United Airlines decision was reported in USA Today on Monday. That story was based on an internal memo the airline sent to employees late last week.

“As we approach the 2020 presidential election, there is a possibility of renewed protest activity,” the memo said.

Saying the hotel changes were precautionary and temporary, United Airlines said it would impact crews staying over in certain (not all) cities. The impacted cities include Seattle, Washington, Denver, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Portland.

Airlines like United usually have arrangements with several hotels in layover cities. It gives the airline some flexibility in situations like this. On a day to day basis, being able to access different hotels offers the airline the ability to tailor crew layover arrangements. For example, a crew doing a 12-hour layover might normally use a neighboring airport hotel. A crew coming off an intercontinental flight and heading off for a 36-hour layover might be moved away from the airport.

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Crews are temporarily staying at airport rather than downtown hotels. Photo: Denver International Airport

Owing to security issues, Simple Flying won’t detail current hotels used by flight crews. But, by way of example, United Airlines used to use several hotels around Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, depending on the length of the layover. Crews on a short layover would use the Hilton O’Hare Airport hotel. Crews on short to mid-length layovers would use the Hyatt Regency O’Hare Airport hotel. Those crews on longer layovers would use the Hyatt Regency Chicago hotel, and the Swissotel would handle the overflow. These arrangements have since been superseded. However, they are typical of airlines’ multiple hotel strategy in larger cities.

Access to different hotels offers efficiencies and works well when short term problems arise

It also means that when sudden issues arise, such as this week’s possible unrest, it’s easy to swap impacted crews to alternative accommodation. There’s no need to negotiate new contracts, and perks (or otherwise) available to airline crews are already established.

Delta Air Lines told Simple Flying today that they would detail any cities they were watching, citing security concerns. But a Delta spokesperson told us safety was paramount.

“Since nothing is more important than the safety and health of our people and customers, we do have the ability to shift our crew hotel sites if warranted.”

Delta Air Lines will also change crew hotel arrangements if needed. Photo: Denver International Airport

Southwest’s Dan Landson told Simple Flying they were watching to see what happens.

“We’re monitoring the situation and will make any necessary adjustments to our crew accommodations with our employees’ safety and security as our top priority.”

American Airlines hasn’t changed any day to day hotel arrangements yet. But a spokesperson told Simple Flying they were closely watching the situation. The spokesperson told us they make changes to crew accommodation from time to time, based on a variety of factors, including security.

Meanwhile, United Airlines expects the changes to crew accommodation to be temporary. They say it should last about one week.

What do you think? Is United doing the right thing here? Should crew always stay onsite at airport hotels? Post a comment and let us know.