Jeez: Even After Cuts, United Expects Flights To Be 20-30% Full

Filed Under: United

Oscar Munoz and Scott Kirby, United’s CEO and President, respectively, have sent out a note to employees outlining the situation, as it continues to get worse.

United Airlines’ struggles in numbers

In the letter, United Airlines shares some insights into just how bad things are, including some numbers:

  • March is typically United’s busiest month of the year, but in the first two weeks of March 2020, United had a million fewer customers, and they project that revenue for the month will be $1.5 billion lower than March 2019
  • Things are going to get worse, and United expects both the number of customers and revenue to decline sharply in the coming weeks
  • United is having conversations with union leadership about how to reduce payroll expenses
  • United is cutting the salaries of corporate officers by 50%
  • United will announce 50% capacity cuts for April and May, and expects these cuts to extend into summer
  • Even with flight cuts, United expects that load factors will drop to 20-30%, and that’s if things don’t get worse (and things appear to have gotten worse, as many flights are much emptier than that)

United Airlines’ full letter to employees

Here’s the full letter, if you’d like to read it:

To our United family:

In the message we sent to you last Thursday, we promised to stay in close touch about the impact of the coronavirus on our business and the steps that we’re taking to aggressively manage it.

In just the last few days, the impact of the coronavirus has really hit home and disrupted the daily routines of hundreds of millions of people in the United States and around the world. State and local governments continue to close schools, encourage people to avoid bars and restaurants and cancel more large gatherings. This weekend, President Trump announced new travel restrictions for the United Kingdom and Ireland. Watching this unfold, you won’t be surprised to hear that the impact of the coronavirus on our business has also gotten quite a bit worse.

As the leaders of the 100,000 people of United, we feel a deep obligation to each of you to run our company in a way that protects you — and your ability to provide for your family at home. We also owe it to you, especially in a crisis, to be open with you about important decisions we face.

We want to share some numbers to help you understand just how bad the impact of the coronavirus has been on our business. As you know, March is typically our busiest month of the year. But this year, in just the first two weeks of March, we have welcomed more than one million fewer customers on board our aircraft than the same period last year. We’re also currently projecting that revenue in March will be $1.5 billion lower than last March.

The bad news is that it’s getting worse. We expect both the number of customers and revenue to decline sharply in the days and weeks ahead.

Since late January, we have taken steps to aggressively manage this crisis and to keep you informed every step of the way – sharply reducing schedules, imposing a hiring freeze, introducing a voluntary leave program, dramatically reducing discretionary spending, cutting CEO base salary 100% and deferring a salary increase. Our competitors have started to follow suit: on Friday, Delta announced a 40% schedule reduction and a 100% salary cut for their CEO and over the weekend, American said it will reduce its international capacity by 75%.

We took early, aggressive action because we have been determined to do everything possible to avoid painful steps that affect your paycheck. But, based on the severity of the situation, that no longer appears realistic.

This weekend, we began conversations with our union leadership about how to reduce our payroll expense in a way that minimizes what we know will be painful for all of us. Earlier this evening, we convened a call with Corporate Officers to update them on the severity of the situation and let them know we will be cutting their salary by 50%.

Let us be clear: these are not the only next steps. Tomorrow, we will announce an approximately 50% cut in capacity for April and May. We also now expect these deep cuts to extend into the summer travel period. Even with those cuts, we’re expecting load factors to drop into the 20-30% range — and that’s if things don’t get worse.

Together, we’re facing an unprecedented challenge. When medical experts say that our health and safety depends on people staying home and practicing social distancing, it’s nearly impossible to run a business whose shared purpose is “Connecting people. Uniting the world.”

We both hate to have to write a note like this, but we have made a commitment to be honest and transparent with you. While it’s now clear that this is going to be painful for our people, we promise that you are at the very top of our priority list. We are working night and day on support and ideas to keep as much pay as we possibly can flowing to you — even if gets worse from here and demand temporarily plummets to zero.

This crisis is moving really quickly. It’s having an impact on nearly every aspect of our lives, and it may feel to you like everything is changing. But, the most important thing about our business hasn’t changed: you’ve shown us that even in these difficult times, we’re still United and focused on caring for our customers and each other together. That’s always been the essential ingredient to our success. It’s what will get us through this crisis in the near term, and it’s also what will allow us to fulfill United’s incredible potential in the long-term.

We’ll continue to communicate frequently and transparently in the days ahead.

With resolve,
Oscar and Scott

Bottom line

It’s not surprising to see just how grim the situation is, though some of these numbers surprise me even taking into account the situation. So even after all of the flight cuts (United will likely be suspending a vast majority of flights), they’re expecting flights to be 20-30% full, and that’s assuming things don’t get worse? Wow…

(Tip of the hat to Live and Let’s Fly)

  1. Wow. That explains fully the refund in a year policy. Huge cash crunch and trying to conserve every dime they can

  2. @Sharon-I would probably fly domestically if only 20% of the seats were sold. Better “social distancing” than a crowded store. And probably better disinfected.

  3. Kinda confused how you are surprised by the low passenger numbers. Are you not seeing ny,nj,ct are basically shutting down? Where are people flying to? I’m surprised people are flying at all going forward.

  4. Exactly what Bill says. I’d be traveling if everywhere wasn’t shutting down OR tickets weren’t getting cancelled but all my trips in march/april/june are looking grim for flights..

  5. And might we talk about the stock options that were self-bestowed upon the top tier in Feb 25, 2020. Just prior to the real story getting out. That booking were falling fast! This PR written letter to the troops, is self serving to create the talk to congress. Hat in hand, Oscar and company squandered all the profits on propping up the stock price for years. And we have no money left! Bad leadership best shows itself when things go bad. And when the piggy bank the same people have cleaned out for a decade is now empty.

  6. United’s unique situation is that not only are they affected by the pandemic but they are also instituting some of the most anti-customer policies because of it. I’m telling everyone I can to avoid flying them. Let them rot.

  7. Well…looks like my odds of an upgrade for my late-April flights will go up. It’s my last year with them (letting Platinum status expire since I’m 1MM Gold for life).
    My travel is deemed essential (healthcare worker) so I’m rather looking forward to an empty plane for once.

  8. I flew home Sunday night, purely just because I wanted to get home and be closer to loved ones. I have no desire to get on an airplane, go out to a restaurant or even a walk on the beach. Social distancing is good and I will be keeping myself away from family ( or virtually ) anyone for an extended period of time. But, my point was…..I booked a ticket a few hours before my transcon flight. 28 people on. 3 in first and was 212 dollars in first. On delta. Ghost town.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *