United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby was asked recently about whether United is benefiting from pilot attrition at Southwest Airlines. His response was surprising, suggesting that pilots are giving up their seniority at major US carriers to come fly for United.
United Airlines CEO: We Are Hiring Pilots From All Airlines
Asked whether United was seeing an influx of pilots from Southwest, Kirby responded:
“And on the pilot front, what I’d say is, it’s an amazing change. I try to get out to the pilot training center and see new hire classes, and we’re hiring 200 a month, and I’ve started asking where they come from and show of hands.
“It used to be like from any of the large airlines, ULCCs, LCCs, big airlines, hardly any because you had to give up seniority to come. We now have a high percentage of people in those classes that are coming from all airlines. And I think the reason is because United has — if you’re a pilot — well, if you’re any one and you aspire to a career in aviation, United is a place to go. We’re well on our way to be the biggest, but also the best Andrew [Nocella] talked about the brand, the reputation that matters a lot to people.
“Our pay rates are going to always be — vary depending on the timing of contracts, but always basically going to be at the top of the industry. If you’re a pilot, United has the most growth opportunities and most opportunities, the fastest path to captain. The most widebodies of any airline by far in the country, like we’re the place to go. And people are actually giving up their seniority at all of our competitors for the opportunity to come and have a future at United that’s a testament to what all the people of United have accomplished and how bright we feel like the future looks.”
Multiple sources have told Live And Let’s Fly that United is poaching pilots from the likes of Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit, which fall under the “ultra-low-cost-carrier” category and pay their pilots comparatively less than the legacy carriers. United is also attracting regional pilots from other airlines. But this is the first time I have heard of United poaching pilots from more major airlines.
Kirby specifically pinpoints the concern: seniority. If you spend 10 years as a pilot at American Airlines, a job offer at United Airlines is far less attractive because you start at the bottom of the list again when to seniority. That means you are less likely to receive the trips you bid for or work the hours you prefer. It also means lower boarding priority for standby if commuting or non-revving.
I’m not accusing Kirby of puffery, but I would love to see the actual numbers. I do think working for United is an amazing opportunity or aspiring pilots. Indeed, the number of widebody aircraft presents a unique opportunity to fly and to rise in the ranks. Even so, I just have trouble believing that pilots who are established at American or Alaska or Delta or Southwest would ever jump ship.
Kirby has hinted that United is poaching pilots from other network carriers. Based upon the seniority system of U.S. carriers, I find such a claim difficult to believe, but I’ve certainly heard that pilots are leaving regionals and budget carriers to join United. That represents a true threat to the regional airline business and the low-cost-carrier model, but I do wonder whether any mainline pilot from another network carrier would actually give up seniority to work for United.
Are you a pilot who has jumped ship recently? What would it take for you to give up your seniority and move to a different carrier?
Probably not from DL. Didn’t they have the first pilot union to renew for that obscene deal? And UA’s union were the one who turned his back on him, literally?
Is “work the houses you prefer” a typo or an industry term that I’m totally ignorant of?
Sorry, meant hours.
What does “poaching” mean? Large airplane order? Two new Pilot domiciles? Competitive pay?
Is Delta “poaching” with their industry leading TA?
He might see a few pilots from DL occasionally but I don’t see them losing lots of pilots to United anytime soon. The only reason I can see to change airlines is the opportunity for growth, with United placing such huge aircraft orders. That’s thinking longer term.
UA seems to have great relations with their pilots, and their pilots union seems to have very professional representation. NOT!
Who still says “NOT”?
Grow up adults are talking here.
Mature adults talking on the internet? AS IF!
I’m a check airman for United and train new hire pilots on practically every flight I operate. I have seen pilots from everywhere…AA, DL, SWA, all the LCCs and ULCCs, as well as some of the cargo, regional, and foreign carriers. Kirby is correct, but it’s also a pilot’s market, and experienced, quality applicants will often have multiple offers and thus, their choice of where to go. We have had a handful of pilots quit to go to Delta, as well. It’s a personal choice that often reflects domiciles, family requirements, etc.
I’m an A320 Instructor at one of the major airlines mentioned in the story. The only movement between majors I’ve seen is very new people switching after starting training or in their probationary year because they got an offer from an airline with a base in their home. For example a newhire at United may leave for American if they live in Charlotte or a newhire at American may leave for Delta if they live in Minneapolis. Thats about it in my experience though.
it’s more of Kirby’s distasteful bravado.
UAL has more foreign flying. If you get tired of domestic, mostly, that is a good place to go. If UAL has a base where you live, or where your family lives, that is a good reason to go. Some new SWA pilots are complaining that flying for them is just like regional flying…they might go to UAL I am at Atlas Air. We just had a Captain leave for Delta. Now he wishes he hadn’t left. He doesn’t like the flying at DAL. He would be a good candidate for UAL..
Nothing new. It’s been that way forever. Very junior pilots will switch airlines.
Who really wants to work for Spirit, etc. Even SWA would limit you to flying that horrible 737 for life.
Delta has a huge profit sharing program. Why would anyone move from Delta to United? Kirby is again just bullshitting.
There is more to it than just profit sharing. Delta doesn’t have very many widebody AC . United has alot of 787s and 777s which pay more that the 737s or A320s Delta flies so you can make higher hourly pay at United. In addition there are years when profit sharing can be zero. So you’re better off with the higher hourly pay.
It’s not Scott Kirby’s puffery or bravado. United is definitely getting pilots from the other big airlines. I was on the crew shuttle last year with some new hires, one came from Southwest., the other Delta and the other guy from American. On the line I’ve flown with a number of people who came from Alaska, Jet Blue, Spirit, Atlas and Allegiant. Having said that most of the people who came from Delta, Alaska, American and Southwest had less than 3 years there . A few jump ship from United to go to Delta because they wanted to live in Atlanta and not commute, but nobody leaves UA for Southwest. Being a pilot at United means more opportunities throughout one’s career to fly a variety of desirable aircraft like 787s and 777s than Southwest or Alaska which only fly the 737. In addition United flies to some great destinations that you’ll never see at Southwest or probably even Delta- Tahiti, Dubrovnik, Capetown, Melbourne, Buenos Aires, Etc. IMHO going to United is a no brainer unless you really want to live in Atlanta or Detroit.
Over 30 pilots left United for Southwest in 2022. It goes all directions.
What’s your source, Ben? I don’t see that, and I don’t know anyone who tracks data with that granularity, though United might. I’m curious if this is accurate.
It’s true…… just talked with a new pilot at UA — he had been with AA for 3 years.
That’s far more than someone’s opinion. It’s proof
Appreciate the data point.
Sat at the bar with a SWA captain about a month ago…. He complained that SWA overfills each training class because people who accept job offers aren’t showing up— they are going to United
Why would anyone with job offers at the majors choose SWA, Alaska, or JetBlue if they could go with UAL? Six legs a day followed by a 10-hour layover in Buffalo or Akron versus one leg to Tahiti….that seems like a no-brainer.
I have a family member who’s involved with training for a large U.S. airline and they assured me that United was pretty vehement about poaching pilots as soon as they were done with their extensive training at the other airline’s expense. A rather tasteless move to be sure but… Kirby.
I wish my career there had moved like that. After 27 years, I couldn’t hold captain on any widebody in the system. Oh well, I loved the 737 and I was happy to be able to fly it, along with the old 727. I preferred domestic flying.
Other than having a woke HR Dept., United is definitely the best airline to fly for with their great hubs and new fleet. I would sign up there again.
Of course “the Rule” was always, you go to whatever airline hires you. And having done that, most pilots stay put. There will always be a few who stray, probably because the other carrier has a base where they really want to live.
Poaching implies that United is actively recruiting Delta and AA pilots to leave.
Seems more likely that if an AA or DL pilot wants to join UA, UA won’t turn them away, but is not actively recruiting them.
Do these airlines not have non competes in their contracts? Or did airline execs never expected it to happen
In the current environment, new hire pilots are making moves between all of the legacy carriers. It’s not a one way street to UAL. All of the legacy carriers have swapped pilots in this hiring cycle, people are going to the carrier that best meets their needs.
I believe it, I’m an FA for them and I noticed many of them come from AA, emirates, Qatar haven’t seen a DAL ex pilot yet. But from my understanding they said it’s bcz they didn’t see themselves retiring at their old carriers….