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United Offers Pilots Unpaid Leave Due To Boeing Delivery Delays

The Chicago-based carrier has offered unpaid leave to its pilots, citing delivery delays from Boeing.

A United 737 MAX 9 aircraft (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

United Airlines is offering its pilots an unpaid leave program in May, citing delayed deliveries of Boeing aircraft. The news comes a month after it was reported that the airline would pause new hiring for May and June.

United’s Unpaid Leave Offer 

As first reported by CNBC, United has offered voluntary unpaid time off for the month of May to its pilots. Pilots have the option of taking the whole month off or picking select dates. They also have the option of a blank schedule that allows them to pick up trips.

United has confirmed the request for voluntary time off due to excess staffing resulting from Boeing delivery delays. The United chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) – the union representing the airline’s pilots – has told its members that it expects the airline to make similar offers for the remaining summer bid periods, with the possibility that they will continue in the fall.

Slowdown in Pilot Hiring

A few weeks ago, United opted to pause new pilot classes for May and June, also citing Boeing delivery delays. An internal memo at the time stated that the carrier planned on resuming new hire classes in July, but it is unclear if that is still the case. The airline had planned to hire 800 pilots by the end of April.

The revelation that United is planning for excess staffing marks a sharp departure from the airline’s recent record-breaking hiring numbers. Less than six months ago, the carrier was hiring record numbers of pilots in the fall months, amid a slowdown in hiring among is competitors.

In 2022, the airline reached an all-time high for pilot hiring, bringing on approximately 2,500 new hires. The airline has also recently announced a major expansion to its flight training center in Denver.

United’s new building at their Flight Training Center in Denver. (Photo: United Airlines)

United pilots also saw a historic new contract last year, with significant pay rises in line with its competitors. Last summer, the airline reached an agreement with the Air Line Pilots Association for a new $10 billion contract that would bring raises ranging from 35% to 40% over four years for flight crew.

Boeing’s Delivery Delays

The first few months of the year have been rough for Boeing. Since the now-infamous Jan. 5 door plug blowout, the notable aircraft manufacturer has faced newfound scrutiny of its quality control practices,  a major management shakeup and widespread negative news coverage.

On top of these problems, the airline has been facing long certification delays for the largest variant of the Boeing 737 MAX, the 737-10 MAX. The latest problems at Boeing will likely extend the certification and delivery timeframe even more, with United’s CEO Scott Kirby publicly stating that the airline is building a fleet plan without the Boeing 737-10 MAX.

Kirby has stated that even in the best-case scenario, deliveries of the largest 737 MAX type would be five years behind schedule. The airline currently has hundreds of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft on order.

Andrew Chen


  • Andrew Chen

    Andrew is a lifelong lover of aviation and travel. He has flown all over the world and is fascinated by the workings of the air travel industry. As a private pilot and glider pilot who has worked with airlines, airports and other industry stakeholders, he is always excited to share his passion for aviation with others. In addition to being a writer, he also hosts Flying Smarter, an educational travel podcast that explores the complex world of air travel to help listeners become better-informed and savvier travelers.

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