United Airlines cuts half its flights and expects planes no more than 30 per cent full

‘It's getting worse. We expect both the number of customers and revenue to decline sharply in the days and weeks ahead’ – statement from airline CEO and president

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Monday 16 March 2020 07:55 GMT
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Ground stop: on a normal day, United flies almost half a million people
Ground stop: on a normal day, United flies almost half a million people (Getty Images)

One of the world’s biggest airlines will halve its planned schedule of flights in April and May – and predicts aircraft that do fly will be no more than 30 per cent full.

United Airlines’ chief executive, Oscar Munoz, and president, Scott Kirby, sent a message to almost 100,000 staff about the effect of the coronavirus crisis on the carrier. It included a warning that demand for air travel could temporarily fall to zero.

“We took early, aggressive action because we have been determined to do everything possible to avoid painful steps that affect your paycheck," they said.

“But, based on the severity of the situation, that no longer appears realistic.

“When medical experts say that our health and safety depends on people staying home and practising social distancing, it's nearly impossible to run a business whose shared purpose is ‘Connecting people. Uniting the world’.“

March is usually United’s busiest month of the year, but the Chicago-based airline predicts revenue will be $1.5bn (£1.2bn) lower than March 2019.

“The bad news is that it's getting worse,” the executives said. “We expect both the number of customers and revenue to decline sharply in the days and weeks ahead.

“We also now expect these deep cuts to extend into the summer travel period.

“Even with those cuts, we're expecting load factors to drop into the 20-30 per cent range — and that's if things don't get worse.

“We are working night and day on support and ideas to keep as much pay as we possibly can flowing to you – even if gets worse from here and demand temporarily plummets to zero.”

Senior executives have had their pay halved, and Mr Munoz has said he will forego his basic salary.

On a normal day, United and its United Express affiliates operate almost 5,000 flights carrying half a million passengers.

United’s competitors have also made deep cuts: Delta has announced a 40 per cent schedule reduction, while American said it will reduce its international capacity by 75 per cent.

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