United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby apologized Friday for flying a private jet this week while passengers were left stranded by thousands of delays and cancelations this week.
Kirby called his decision to reportedly fly from an airport near Newark, New Jersey — where many of the delays and cancelations were occurring — to Denver on Wednesday “wrong” and “insensitive.”
“Taking a private jet was the wrong decision because it was insensitive to our customers who were waiting to get home,” he said in a statement, according to multiple outlets.
“I sincerely apologize to our customers and our team members who have been working around the clock for several days — often through severe weather — to take care of our customers.”
The airline delayed and canceled more flights in the U.S. this week than any other carrier, which it blamed on bad weather and air traffic control shortages.
Thousands of flights at Newark, LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports had been scrapped starting Saturday after thunderstorms started to roll in.
On Tuesday, Kirby slammed the FAA for the carrier’s problems.
“The FAA frankly failed us this weekend,” Kirby said in a memo to staff, adding that the weather in the New York City area “is something that the FAA has historically been able to manage without a severe impact on our operation and customers.”
Kirby said on Saturday the FAA reduced the arrival rates at Newark – one of United’s hubs – by 40% and the departure rates by 75%.
“This is almost certainly a reflection of understaffing/lower experience at the FAA,” Kirby said. “It led to massive delays, cancelations, diversions, as well as crews and aircraft out of position. And that put everyone behind the eight ball when weather did hit on Sunday and was further compounded by FAA staffing shortages Sunday evening.”
Kirby flew private Wednesday because he couldn’t get on a commercial flight, a United spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal, adding that the company didn’t pay for his flight.
TSA predicted that Friday would be the busiest travel day in three years because of the upcoming Fourth of July holiday as Americans return to traveling since the pandemic.
“There has been meaningful improvement across our operation after a challenging week that started with bad weather on the East Coast that caused a major ripple effect throughout our system,” United said Friday.
“Getting you on your way safely for the Fourth of July — and for all your summer travels — remains our top priority.”
Southwest Airlines faced a similar problem over the winter holidays when it was forced to cancel thousands of flights due to weather and staffing issues caused by outdated scheduling systems.
By Brie Stimson