United Airlines Opens Strategic New Pilot Bases

United Airlines Opens Strategic New Pilot Bases

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For the first time in nearly 20 years, United Airlines is opening new pilot bases. This seems like a logical move that’s good for everyone.

United opening pilot bases in Las Vegas & Orlando

United Airlines has revealed that it will be opening two new pilot bases in May 2023 — the airline will be opening a Las Vegas (LAS) base with 204 pilots, and an Orlando (MCO) base with 300 pilots. These bases will exclusively have Boeing 737 pilots, reflecting the planes that are primarily flown to and from these airports. United Airlines’ new pilot base in Orlando may also cover Tampa (TPA) at some point in the future.

Currently United primarily has pilot bases at its hubs. While pilots can live anywhere they want, they’re responsible for commuting to their base in time for the flights they have to work. While they can travel on United for next to nothing, there often aren’t empty seats, so they have to leave plenty of time to commute, and also often have to pay for hotels (or a “crash pad”) at their base.

Nonetheless a lot of pilots find commuting worth it. After all, airlines often have hubs in expensive cities, so pilots would often rather live in places with a lower cost of living, and then go through the hassle of commuting.

These new pilot bases were chosen based on having the highest concentration of United pilots living there outside of the carrier’s existing hubs. For example, over 1,000 United Airlines pilots live in Florida and commute. It’s also probably not a coincidence that these bases are in places with no state income tax.

United is opening new Boeing 737 pilot bases?

This seems like a win-win-win

Historically the logic for limiting pilot bases has been that it’s more efficient to have fewer bases. That’s because you always need reserve pilots in case there are operational issues, and it’s more efficient to do that for a larger base than a smaller base.

However, as the situation has evolved, this seems like it’s beneficial for everyone, including the airline, pilots, and even customers. In a memo, United claims that this change will “drive operational integrity and recovery during off-schedule operations.”

For pilots who live near these airports, the opportunity to live where you want without having to commute is awesome. It will save pilots a lot of time and money, especially with flights as full as they are nowadays (meaning that in many cases pilots have to leave ample time for commutes).

This also makes things better for United, as the airline will more reliably be able to schedule pilots. While commuting was ultimately the responsibility of pilots, there were plenty of situations where pilots didn’t make it to the flight they were supposed to work due to delays, full flights, etc.

This is also useful in situations where there are irregular operations in Las Vegas or Orlando, as the airline will be able to call in reserves who are based there, as needed.

This will also generally help United with recruiting pilots. With pilots being in short supply, being able to be based close to where you live is a huge potential advantage. Heck, this is a reason that a lot of pilots choose to work for Allegiant (where they’re paid less), as the airline has bases at many of its destinations.

Many United pilots won’t have to commute to work anymore

Bottom line

For the first time in roughly two decades, United Airlines is opening new pilot bases. As of the spring of 2023, United will open bases in Las Vegas and Orlando, reflecting that this is where a lot of pilots live. This will be a huge benefit for pilots who live near these airports and otherwise commute, as they’ll save a lot of time, and they won’t have to rely on commuting to get to their jobs anymore.

I think this also more broadly reflects that airlines are trying to make changes that are attractive to pilots, given the pilot shortage.

What do you make of United’s new pilot bases?

Conversations (19)
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  1. Michael Guest

    Florida, no state tax
    Nevada, no state tax
    who wouldn't want to move

  2. Dave Guest

    I think there's a lot of hoopla around this when in actuality it's a strategic operational move that doesn't have anything to do with a market's future growth. AA didn't pull back SFO when they closed the FA or Pilot bases. Same goes for United in Orlando and LV. We won't see any significant growth. However, that said, if AA were to open an AUS FA/Pilot base, to me that would signal a long-term plan for the market.

  3. Warren Trout Guest

    But who wouldn't want to be based in SFO and pay $1.5M for a small fixer home?

  4. Goforride Member

    I'm pretty sure ALL pilot bases are strategic.

  5. Tim Dunn Diamond

    The back story is that Scott Kirby, United's CEO, said months ago that United would lead the industry with a new contract and that United would take all of the "growth" pilots in the industry, leaving every other airline to have to fight for pilots to cover retirements.
    TALK ABOUT HUBRIS.
    and then United's pilots not just soundly rejected the contract that Kirby was deeply involved in getting to a vote but those...

    The back story is that Scott Kirby, United's CEO, said months ago that United would lead the industry with a new contract and that United would take all of the "growth" pilots in the industry, leaving every other airline to have to fight for pilots to cover retirements.
    TALK ABOUT HUBRIS.
    and then United's pilots not just soundly rejected the contract that Kirby was deeply involved in getting to a vote but those same pilots are still working the process of recalling dozens of pilot leaders across multiple bases - dooming United to the likely position of being the last among the big 3 and possibly the big 4 in signing a new pilot contract, resulting in Kirby more recently saying that United will just let the negotiators at other airlines do the heavy lifting of negotiation.

    1. Goforride Member

      That's not exactly what happened.

      UA's ALPA bargaining unit had a tentative agreement which WAS industry leading at the time it was signed. As is normal, ALPA then goes on "road shows" to pilot domiciles to explain the contract before it's voted on.

      During the time that the road shows were being set up, the regional carriers started giving huge raises to their pilots, narrowing, or in some cases even surpassing, starting UA pilots.

      ...

      That's not exactly what happened.

      UA's ALPA bargaining unit had a tentative agreement which WAS industry leading at the time it was signed. As is normal, ALPA then goes on "road shows" to pilot domiciles to explain the contract before it's voted on.

      During the time that the road shows were being set up, the regional carriers started giving huge raises to their pilots, narrowing, or in some cases even surpassing, starting UA pilots.

      Then Alaska Airlines pilots got a new contract and all of a sudden that UA contract wasn't "industry leading" anymore.

      So now, it's back the drawing board for both the company, which has to maintain its flow-through from regionals, a key element which is revolutionary, and the union, which wants to keep its members comfortably above the regionals and on a par, at least, with the other mainline pilots.

      So much turmoil has developed in the regionals, it's going to take some time for the dust to settle for UA and the other mainline carriers. Don't look for a new contract anytime soon. That's why UA and ALPA agreed to that short tem pay boost.

    2. Tim Dunn Diamond

      you forgot to mention that AA came out with a proposed level of salary increases that just BARELY was above UAL's offer - just as UAL sent their contract out for a vote.
      The collective bargaining environment between individual companies in an oligopolistic industry ALWAYS leaves open the possibility of someone else leapfrogging with a better offer. Part of the way to offset that was with a "me too" clause but there were also...

      you forgot to mention that AA came out with a proposed level of salary increases that just BARELY was above UAL's offer - just as UAL sent their contract out for a vote.
      The collective bargaining environment between individual companies in an oligopolistic industry ALWAYS leaves open the possibility of someone else leapfrogging with a better offer. Part of the way to offset that was with a "me too" clause but there were also significant defects in the UAL contract including much larger increases for "trainer pilots" than for line pilots - and the UAL pilots wanted nothing to do with that.

      None of which changes that Kirby's arrogance about coming up with a pilot contract first and getting all of the new pilots in the industry was completely shut down by his own pilots. Who cares what anyone on a discussion board thinks if you can't win over your own employees?

      Let's see what Delta and then Southwest and American come up with but United said it will be happy to FOLLOW rather than LEAD with a new pilot contract - which will impact what other airline employee groups get in pay increases.

    3. UA-NYC Guest

      Meanwhile if it was Delta making this announcement, Tim Dunn would be crowing how smart & strategic it was, opening in key non-hub markets, and that Delta was leading the way YET AGAIN. LOL.

    4. Ken Guest

      Lol, so true. I think it will be great if Lucky had some round table event with "Tim Dunn" for Delta and "DCS" for Hilton. I'm really curious to meet those folks. The way they passionately defend those brands is mind boggling

    5. Tim Dunn Diamond

      when people dream up things that they THINK I would say, I simply have to draw the conversation back to the facts of this case which are that United wanted to have an industry leading contract and do it before any other airline so they could sap up any pilot that didn't have American, Delta, or Southwest tattooed on their backside.
      And then American, in just minutes - not Delta, sunk United's entire plan....

      when people dream up things that they THINK I would say, I simply have to draw the conversation back to the facts of this case which are that United wanted to have an industry leading contract and do it before any other airline so they could sap up any pilot that didn't have American, Delta, or Southwest tattooed on their backside.
      And then American, in just minutes - not Delta, sunk United's entire plan. And now United's pilot union is in shambles and the company has rightfully recognized that it will be pulling up the rear in the industry - so much for leadership.

      And I could care less where any airline puts their pilot bases - but I can see the benefits of any of them. And I didn't say a thing about whether United's reason made sense or not - because they do.

      The bottom line is that United is doing what it can to salvage its disastrous handling of the collective bargaining process and that is what is driving all of this. They are doing what they can to attract pilots given that actually paying them industry leading wages is off the table.

  6. TheRubioRoom New Member

    Just make MCO a hub already, United, you've had a maintenance base there for ages.

    1. ORD_Is_My_Second_Home Member

      There's no way they can turn MCO into a fortress hub. They tolerate ORD because it's the company headquarters and LAX because it's LAX. But there's no way they'll try a hub in an airport that's dominated by LCCs.

    2. JWags Guest

      Are you trying to imply UA doesn't like having ORD as a hub?

    3. Tim Dunn Diamond

      given that United is the smallest of 7 nationwide airlines in Florida, United's move is nothing more than trying to gain a hiring advantage given how many airline employees - current and potential - want to live in low cost/low tax states.
      United didn't have to ask its pilots to do this just as the company moved up a 5% pay raise to offset the failure of the collective bargaining process.

    4. Goforride Member

      Having a heavy maintenance base in a given city isn't really connected to that city being a hub. The MCO maintenance base is a Continental legacy, just as the one is in CLE. Planes going in there are in the shop for days or even weeks. Sometimes an aircraft will be ferried in from its last revenue flight. Being able to fly in as revenue flight is nice, but there are more considerations than just that.

  7. Justsaying Guest

    Okay but are they planning on actually growing flying there? Yes or no?

    1. Goforride Member

      I would imagine there will be some growth, at least.

      Remember, business travel has always been where the money is for the big three. If there are assets available to fly ORDMCO and ORDLAX equally, historically, it made more sense to fly to LAX. It was pretty hard to saturate the key business markets.

      Then when lockdown ended and everyone was surprised how leisure travel exploded, it left everyone wondering if this was a permanent...

      I would imagine there will be some growth, at least.

      Remember, business travel has always been where the money is for the big three. If there are assets available to fly ORDMCO and ORDLAX equally, historically, it made more sense to fly to LAX. It was pretty hard to saturate the key business markets.

      Then when lockdown ended and everyone was surprised how leisure travel exploded, it left everyone wondering if this was a permanent change or just a rebound from the last couple if years.

      Either way, UA could certainly stand to boost its service to these cities, even if the current leisure boom peters out in the next recession.

      The comment about having pilots on reserve makes a lot of sense. In the summer, flight to MCO often end up getting hammered by thunderstorms at both ends, meaning a pilot that started his day in ORD and has been taking delays all day, ends up in MCO late and isn't available for a turnaround the next morning, leading to delays cascading to the next day.

      Having reserves in MCO and LAS will go a long way toward maintaining the integrity of the schedule system wide.

  8. CAROLYNNE Guest

    Commuting pilots are too " thrify" to pay for hotels- they have commuter pads.

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The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Ken Guest

Lol, so true. I think it will be great if Lucky had some round table event with "Tim Dunn" for Delta and "DCS" for Hilton. I'm really curious to meet those folks. The way they passionately defend those brands is mind boggling

1
UA-NYC Guest

Meanwhile if it was Delta making this announcement, Tim Dunn would be crowing how smart & strategic it was, opening in key non-hub markets, and that Delta was leading the way YET AGAIN. LOL.

1
Dave Guest

I think there's a lot of hoopla around this when in actuality it's a strategic operational move that doesn't have anything to do with a market's future growth. AA didn't pull back SFO when they closed the FA or Pilot bases. Same goes for United in Orlando and LV. We won't see any significant growth. However, that said, if AA were to open an AUS FA/Pilot base, to me that would signal a long-term plan for the market.

1
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