A United Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft lands at San Francisco International Airport.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images
United Airlines announced Thursday that hundreds of pilots will soon be hired – a process the airline had to stop when the coronavirus pandemic destroyed demand for travel last year. This comes from an internal email that has been checked by CNBC.
The Chicago-based airline is the first of the major US carriers to announce that it will resume hiring pilots. This is the latest sign that she is preparing for a recovery. The airline will begin hiring approximately 300 pilots who had contingent vacancies or training scheduled last year before the airline abandoned the hiring.
Over the past year, airlines, including United, have urged thousands of workers to take advantage of buyouts, early retirement packages, and leave of absence in an effort to cut costs during the pandemic. United and its pilots union – the Air Line Pilots Association – reached an agreement last year to avoid vacation with their pilots, including reduced hours for some junior pilots, even though they face lower guarantees due to government aid.
Congress included a third round of federal airline payrolls that bans job cuts through September 30 as part of the $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package last month. As of March 2020, lawmakers have provided $ 54 billion in grants and loans to airlines to pay workers during the crisis.
US airlines combined lost $ 35 billion last year, but expect bookings to grow steadily as more people are vaccinated and more comfortable boarding planes.
“With vaccination rates increasing and the demand for travel increasing, I am pleased to announce that United will resume the pilot recruitment process that was halted last year,” wrote Bryan Quigley, United’s senior vice president of flight operations on Thursday in a staff note watched by CNBC. “We’re starting with the 300 or so pilots who either had a new recruitment class appointment that was canceled, or who had a conditional vacancy in 2020.”
The demand for air travel has increased recently. The Transportation Security Administration examined an average of 1.2 million people a day last month, up 15% from last year when the pandemic and stay-at-home orders halted almost all travel.
Last month’s volume is still below half of March 2019 levels, with business and international travel still largely stalling, but demand for recreational activities is starting to rise. Scott Kirby, United CEO, told an industry conference on Wednesday that domestic leisure demand has recovered almost entirely.
“I’m particularly excited that we were able to protect our people during this disaster,” said Todd Insler, chairman of the United Chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association and United captain of the pandemic. He said if the company had been on vacation it would have been much harder to capitalize on the recovery of the trip.
Like United, other airlines see a need for additional staff, especially pilots, whose training is costly and time-consuming.
Spirit Airlines announced last month that the hiring of pilots and flight attendants was resuming, while other low-cost airlines, Allegiant Air and Sun Country Airlines, are also anticipating hiring this year.