United is giving vacationers affected by delays a present of 30,000 frequent flyer miles

Airplanes are seen on the tarmac as people wait to change their flight at Newark International Airport on June 27, 2023 in Newark, New Jersey.

Kena Betancur | Getty Images News | Getty Images

United AirlinesCEO Scott Kirby said that without additional gates, the airline would have to shorten or change its flight schedules to cope with frequent congestion at its hub in Newark, New Jersey. The airline donated 30,000 frequent flyer miles to customers hardest hit by the chaos.

“This has been one of the most operationally challenging weeks I’ve experienced in my entire career,” Kirby said in a statement to employees on Saturday.

He said the airline needed more gates at Newark Liberty International Airport due to frequent aircraft backlogs there. “We need to keep changing/reducing our schedule to have even more free goals and buffers – especially during thunderstorm season,” he added. United did not provide any further details on the fixture cuts.

A day earlier, Kirby had apologized for taking a private jet from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey while thousands of passengers were stranded, CNBC first reported on Friday.

The troubles began last weekend with a series of thunderstorms in some of the country’s most congested airspaces along the east coast, blocking air traffic. While most airlines recovered, United’s troubles continued through the week, angering both customers and crews. United and JetBlue Airways Executives said problems with air traffic control had exacerbated the disruptions.

Kirby explained the week-long issues and said long-term changes were needed. He said the severely delayed departures that have been piling up at the Newark hub since last weekend were affecting operations. From Sunday to Tuesday, launches were delayed by as much as 75% and exceeded 8 hours in some cases.

“Airlines, including United, are simply not designed to have their largest hub severely constrained for four days and still operate successfully,” he wrote.

Aircraft and crew were then out of position, which is common during severe weather and can trigger a cascade of disruption to customers.

Unions complained that crew members had to wait hours for assignments and hotels, forcing them to stay longer at the airport.

Kirby said the airline needed to improve platforms so crews could more easily get assignments and accommodations through their app. Kirby said what happened last week was unacceptable.

Kirby called for more investment in the FAA and air traffic control to avoid delays and staff shortages, some of which have occurred after hiring and training was halted early in the pandemic.

United sent the 30,000 miles to customers who were delayed overnight or didn’t reach their destination at all, a spokeswoman said. She would not say how many customers received the email.

More than 42,000 U.S. flights arrived late from last Saturday through Friday and more than 7,900 were canceled — or more than 5% of airline schedules — a rate that was more than triple the previous year’s average, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware . Data from FlightAware shows that United underperformed its peers, with about half of its main flight schedule arriving late and almost a fifth being canceled during that period.

United’s operations improved on Saturday but disruptions continued. About a third of the main flight schedule, or nearly 864 flights, were delayed and 60 flights, or 2%, were canceled compared to 1,327 delays and 252 cancellations on Friday.

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