United flight attendants refute CEO’s claims airline was ‘10% overstaffed’

United Airlines' flight attendants are rebuffing the airline CEO's claims that the airline is overstaffed
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The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, (AFA) has refuted a claim by United Airlines chief executive officer (CEO), Scott Kirby, that the airline is overstaffed.

“Not in the severely understaffed UA inflight crew scheduling department — which exacerbates delays and cancellations for passengers and crew,” AFA-CWA said in a quote tweet on X (formerly Twitter).

According to the union, which represents more than 50,000 flight attendants across the United States (US), including United Airlines employees, the airline’s crew scheduling employee numbers are lower than that of Spirit Airlines.

Meanwhile, American Airlines, arguably the carrier’s main competitor, has “nearly double” the staffing numbers, the union said.

United Airlines flight attendants have picketed as recently as August 31, 2023. The CWA-AFA said that the employees demanded the airline fix “ongoing operational issues and focus on negotiating a long overdue contract”.

“We told management over a year ago to hire schedulers, staff up the hotel desk, and implement automation for crew communication,” said Ken Diaz, the AFA United president, at the time. “Management’s response this summer is to attempt to blame Flight Attendants for refusing to accept concessions to fix the problems they’ve created.”

According to United Airlines’ Q2 2023 results presentation, it had a total of 99,800 employees as of June 30, 2023, and 91,200 workers on its payroll in Q2 2022. Meanwhile, Q2 2023 and Q2 2022 salaries and related costs were $3.7 billion and $2.8 billion, respectively.

Between those two quarters, the airline’s fleet only grew by two aircraft, with United Airlines ending Q2 2023 with 1,325 mainline and regional aircraft.

The company’s Q4 2019 results showed that at the end of 2019, it employed around 96,000 people while operating a fleet of 1,358 aircraft.

Salary and related costs were $3.07 billion in Q4 2019, with year-end expenses being $12.07 billion.

During the pandemic, the company’s year-end employee count dropped to 74,400 by the end of 2020, rising to 84,100 the following year. However, in April 2020 and twice in 2021, much like other airlines in the US, United Airlines entered into multiple Payroll Support Program (PSP) agreements.

“These funds were used to pay for the wages, salaries and benefits of United employees, including the payment of lost wages, salaries and benefits to returning employees who were previously impacted by involuntary furloughs,” United Airlines said in its 2021 results report which was published in February 2022.

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