United gives pilots 5% raises early, citing return to profitability

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A United Airlines Boeing 777-200 lands at San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, California.
Louis Nastro | Reuters

United Airlines on Thursday said it was giving pilots 5% raises that were part of a pandemic cost-reduction agreement months ahead of schedule, citing the carrier’s return to profitability and upbeat outlook.

United is offering the raises during talks for a new contract with its pilots union. Talks have been difficult at United and other carriers.

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In 2020, the Chicago-based carrier and the Air Line Pilots Association, which represents United’s more than 13,000 pilots, agreed to offer aviators a round of buyouts as the company scrambled to reduce costs during the industry’s worst-ever crisis.

In exchange, the company said it would raise its pilots’ hourly pay by 5% once the airline returned to a pretax margin at or above 5% for 12 months. They also agreed to job and pay protections.

United reported a pretax margin of 9% in the last quarter. While the airline has still lost money in the first nine months of the year, it expects a profitable end to 2022.

The company could have waited until May 2023 to pay the raises, Bryan Quigley, senior vice president of flight operations at United wrote to pilots on Thursday. The raises will take effect during the December bid month.

“This is a show of good faith and a down payment on a market-based, industry leading labor agreement,” Quigley wrote. “It’s also recognition of the role that you played in helping United survive the pandemic and recover so much stronger.”

ALPA, the union, didn’t immediately comment.

United pilots overwhelmingly voted down a recent proposed agreement that would have increased pay by about 15% over 18 months.

The union said that United pilots plan to picket outside United’s flight training center in Denver next Tuesday. Delta, Southwest, American and FedEx pilots have also picketed to demand better pay and schedules in recent months.

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