As airlines in the United States begin to recover from last year’s collapse in travel demand, the good news keeps coming. Today, reports are emerging of an internal memo from a United Airlines executive. That memo says the airline is going to re-hire around 300 pilots.
United Airlines aims for 300 pilot hires
Last week, United Airlines Senior Vice President of Flight Operations, Bryan Quigley, emailed his 12,000 plus pilots telling them the unexpectedly strong rebound in domestic travel demand would see the airline start hiring again.
“I’m excited to share that United will resume the pilot hiring process that was halted last year,” the memo said. “We’ll start with the approximately 300 pilots who either had a new hire class date that was canceled or who had a 2020 conditional job offer.”
The move signals a reverse of the 2020 trend of laying off airline industry workers. In the latter half of 2020, around 1,000 pilots left United Airlines. Vigorous lobbying by pilot unions brokered a deal in late September 2020 that potentially prevented far more lay-offs.
United Airlines expects to have all of its existing pilots back working their normal number of hours by May.
A rebound in domestic leisure travel props up United Airlines
United Airlines is one of the biggest carriers in the United States and is the second airline to confirm it is resuming hiring pilots. The decision comes as airlines enjoy a faster than anticipated return to normal flying levels in the United States.
For most of March, United Airlines was running roughly the same number of domestic flights every day as it was before the travel downturn. That’s dipped slightly in the first week of April. However, it is up over 400% on the number of flights United Airlines was running this time last year.
“There’s light at the end of the tunnel,” United’s CEO Scott Kirby told a US Chamber of Commerce Aviation Summit this week. “Domestic leisure demand has almost entirely recovered.”
It is that domestic leisure demand that’s driving the recovery at United Airlines. “Business demand is still down over 80%, and international borders, particularly for long-haul, are still largely closed. There are huge chunks of our business that are still almost at zero.
“But it’s really nice to see that (domestic leisure) recovery and that human desire for connection is going to come back and come back strong.
United’s CEO optimistic about the airline’s future
Adopting an optimistic and forward-looking tone, Scott Kirby spoke at length about the future and the new-normal at United Airlines. Like many other companies, he’s used the travel downturn to re-engineer the way United Airlines works.
“We’re going to be a stronger airline on the other side of this,” he says.
United Airlines is not the only airline looking to take on new pilots. Fort Lauderdale-based low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines resumed hiring pilots and flight attendants in February in anticipation of a bumper summer of flying. Spirit Airlines hasn’t said how many workers they’ll hire, but it will be staggered. Like United Airlines, it will also target former employees let go last year.
While the news from United is good today, Bryan Quigley does add a caveat. He’s shooting for 300 pilot hires. However, he says the exact number will depend on how the recovery goes and is subject to unpredictable rebound road bumps.