United’s passengers were stranded, but its CEO flew on a private plane

United Airlines resumed more normal operations on Friday after a week of struggling to recover from flight delays and cancellations ahead of the Fourth of July holiday.

Airline disruptions began last weekend in the New York area. At the time, United blamed thunderstorms and federal air traffic control personnel shortages and inexperience. Other airlines also experienced flight delays and cancellations during that time, but United’s problems on Wednesday stood out as they spread to its operations nationwide.

Adding bad publicity to the airline, the company’s chief executive, Scott Kirby, on Wednesday took a private jet from Teterboro Airport, near Newark Liberty International Airport, one of United’s largest airports, to Denver, the airline’s hub. centers. The airline said it did not pay for the trip, and in a statement on Friday, Mr. Kirby regretted taking that flight.

“Taking a private jet is the wrong decision because it’s insensitive to our customers who are waiting to go home,” he said. “I sincerely apologize to our customers and our team members who have been working 24 hours a day – often in severe weather – to take care of our customers.”

United’s problems have begun to improve in recent days. After canceling about a quarter of flights on Tuesday and Wednesday, United cleared 19 percent of its schedule on Thursday and about 8 percent by Friday afternoon, according to flight tracker FlightAware. However, the number of flights canceled by airlines over those two days eclipsed cancellations by other carriers.

United expressed confidence in its recovery on Friday. In a statement, the storms could be a challenge on the East Coast and in Denver and Chicago, but United said it was “prepared” for a busy weekend.

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“Our reliability continues to improve, with significantly fewer cancellations today compared to previous days,” United said.

Pete Buttigeeg, Secretary of Transportation He singled out the airline on Twitter On Thursday, he shared a chart showing that other carriers have recovered from bad weather earlier in the week, while United has not.

On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees air traffic control and is part of the Transportation Department, said in a memo to employees that United had “failed” over the weekend. Kirby said. Mr. Kirby similarly accused air traffic control of delaying last summer, and Mr. In a letter to employees from BoutiqueGeek, he apologized for expressing that criticism.

This week has been one of the busiest periods for air travel in years. The Transportation Security Administration said it screened more than 2.7 million people on Thursday, one of its busiest days since 2019. Only four other days have been busier in recent weeks since the pandemic began. AAA, Travel Club, He said it is expected Nearly 4.2 million people are set to fly this weekend, up 6.6 percent from 2019.

Throughout the week, United passengers have reported sleeping in airports and standing in lines for hours to rebook flights. Some passengers had to wait several days to retrieve their checked bags.

Elizabeth Rodriguez, who traveled with her 12-year-old son, said in an interview Friday that it took longer than expected to get home from Texas to Fairfax, Va. On Wednesday morning, hours before they were due to take off on a United flight from San Antonio International Airport, he was notified via text and the airline’s mobile app that the flight had been canceled due to crew scheduling issues.

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Mrs. When Rodriguez called customer service to rebook, she had to wait two hours. With no other flights available to the Washington area that day, she booked a flight online for the next day via Houston. After he landed in Houston Thursday night, his flight to Reagan National Airport was repeatedly delayed Friday morning.

“United Airlines this week was mishandled, ill-prepared and failed to be transparent with passengers throughout the entire process,” Ms Rodriguez said. Test gate agents gave several reasons for the test, including crew scheduling issues, weather and mechanical issues.

Ms. Rodriguez said the airline only issued hotel vouchers to some passengers on its flight who paid for a room. His flight finally took off on Friday morning, 15 hours after its original departure time.

“I’m very frustrated with the delays, but more so with how they treated people at the airport,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever use United again.”

His excitement was similar to what Southwest Airlines passengers felt during the winter holidays. Southwest canceled more than 10,000 flights in the four days after Christmas, or 46 percent of its schedule. Tuesday was United’s worst day this week, when it canceled nearly 800 flights, or 28 percent of its schedule.

The disruptions have also frustrated pilots and flight attendants. After flights have been cancelled, many hours have been put on hold and rework has to be done. Social media posts also suggest that some flight attendants have slept in airports.

“Last weekend’s weather affected everyone, but United is still struggling to recover, and we know why,” said Ken Diaz, president of the United chapter of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents more than 25,000 United flight attendants. said in a statement on Thursday. “United’s management’s failure to properly hire crew planners, flight attendant support staff, and more has exacerbated these operational problems.”

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Mr. Diaz said United had “lost” days in its system as groups broke down. He said the union warned management last year of problems that could contribute to further disruptions, but the airline “charged ahead” with an ambitious flight schedule this summer. United has used some of the union’s recommendations to deal with the current disruption, including making changes to its schedule and agreeing to pay flight attendants three times their regular pay to take flights until next Thursday, Mr. Diaz said.

Pilots have expressed similar frustration.

“United Airlines management is failing our loyal customers by ignoring warning signs and failing to plan properly,” said Capt. Garth Thompson, president of the United chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association union, which represents more than 15,000 airlines. The pilots said in a statement.

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