United Airlines Seeks Unpaid Leave for Pilots Due to Boeing Delays

2 United Airlines Boeings land on parallel runways at San Francisco.
Bill Abbott, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

United Airlines is asking its pilots to consider taking voluntary unpaid leave in May 2024. This request comes amidst delays in receiving new Boeing aircraft, impacting the airline’s planned flight schedule for the year.

A Ripple Effect from Boeing Delays

The core reason behind this request lies with the US airplane manufacturer. Boeing has encountered setbacks in its delivery schedule, specifically concerning the 737 Max and potentially other aircraft models.

These delays have left United with fewer planes than anticipated, resulting in a surplus of pilot staffing relative to available flight hours.

Voluntary Programs to Manage Staffing

To address this imbalance, United is offering pilots a chance to participate in voluntary programs that involve unpaid leave during May.

The airline has not specified the exact number of hours pilots would be expected to take off, nor has it confirmed the program’s duration beyond May.

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the union representing United’s pilots, anticipates the program potentially extending into the summer months.

United Airlines Leave Options for Pilots

United is providing pilots with a few choices when it comes to unpaid leave. Pilots can opt for a full month of unpaid leave or select specific dates within May that work for them.

For those who prefer more flexibility, there’s also the option to request a “blank” schedule. This allows them to essentially take the month off but with the possibility of picking up flights if they become available and they choose to do so.

United Airlines Ask Boeing To Stop Building 737 MAX 10s
Bill Abbott, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Minimal Impact on Passengers Anticipated

While this situation may raise concerns about potential flight disruptions, United has assured passengers that it does not anticipate having to cancel flights due to the pilot leave program.

The airline is likely aiming to manage the surplus in pilot staffing through a combination of voluntary programs and adjustments to pilot schedules.

A Developing Situation

As of now, details regarding the specific number of pilots United is looking for and the program’s exact duration beyond May remain unclear.

The coming weeks may see further developments as the airline and the pilots’ union negotiate the program’s specifics.

United Flight Lands in Medford, Oregon With Panel Missing
Photo Credit: Raimond Spekking via Wikimedia Commons.

Why the Delays at Boeing?

Boeing, a key player in the commercial airplane industry, has been grappling with delivery delays that have cascaded down to airlines like United.

While the exact reasons behind United Airlines request for pilot leave might involve specific models, here’s a glimpse into some of the broader factors impacting Boeing’s production and delivery timelines:

  • Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 Issue: Following the January 2024 incident involving an in-flight door plug detachment, production was slowed in Seattle.

The flow on effect from this incident resulted in a reduction in deliveries from the 737 MAX production line. Boeing moved to increase focus on quality and process control.

A Boeing 787 parked at the factory.
Photo Credit: Boeing
  • Supply Chain Issues: The global pandemic continues to cast a long shadow over manufacturing.

Shortages of parts and materials have plagued various industries, including aerospace. Boeing, along with other manufacturers, has struggled to secure a steady supply of necessary components, causing delays in production timelines.

  • Production Issues: Beyond the 737 MAX grounding, Boeing has also faced production issues with other aircraft models.

This has included problems such as fuselage cracks discovered in the 787 Dreamliner program in 2020. These issues require additional inspections and, in some cases rework, further impacting delivery schedules.

It’s important to note that these are some of the major contributing factors, and the specific reasons behind delays can vary depending on the aircraft model.

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By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 5 Min Read
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