United Airlines Offering Pilots (Partially) Paid Leave

Filed Under: United

We’ve seen the “big three” US airlines all reduce flying to Asia, though United Airlines has seen by far the most reductions in their schedule.

How United Airlines has reduced service to Asia

United Airlines is the biggest US airline in Asia. They started by canceling flights to mainland China and Hong Kong (they flew to Beijing, Chengdu, Hong Kong, and Shanghai).

On top of that, they recently announced that they’re reducing service to many other points in Asia due to reduced demand, including Osaka, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, and Tokyo.

With these reductions in service, United Airlines has dozens of their 777s and 787s grounded, without many opportunities to fly them last minute in a profitable way.

As you might expect, this also means that at the moment the airline has more pilots for these planes than they need.

United Airlines 787-10

United offering pilots paid leave

While we’ve seen some airlines in Asia ask employees to take unpaid leave (either voluntarily or involuntarily), United Airlines is taking a different approach. United Airlines is offering their 777 and 787 pilots the opportunity to take the month of April off.

For pilots who volunteer for this, the airline is offering reduced pay for the month, rather than no pay. As Todd Insler, President of United’s pilot union explains:

“The reductions in block hours has resulted in lower line values and fewer flying opportunities in some fleets. We are preparing for the possibility of further reductions to our schedules as the virus spreads.”

Note that as of October 1, 2020, United Airlines plans on laying off about one third of pilots.

United Airlines 777 pilots have the option of taking April off

How much will United pilots be paid?

Airline pilots can fly up to 1,000 hours per year:

  • That means pilots can work an average of just over 80 hours per month
  • United Airlines guarantees pay for at least 70 hours of flying, even if pilots don’t actually fly that much

With this leave opportunity, United pilots who choose to take the month off would instead be paid for about 50 hours of flying, so they’d get ~60-70% of their normal pay, not factoring in per diems, holiday pay, etc.

For example, at the very top of United’s pay scale, the most senior 777 and 787 captains earn $352 per hour (that’s according to Airline Pilot Central). With 70-80 block hours, pilots would ordinarily be earning ~$25K-28K for the month.

If they were paid based on 50 hours of flying, they’d instead be earning ~$18K for the month.

Let me once again emphasize that the above pay is only for senior captains, and less senior captains and first officers are earning significantly less.

This is potentially really generous, though I guess it depends on how you look at it:

  • You’re getting 60-70% of your pay while taking time off
  • At the same time, assuming not many pilots take advantage of this, I’d guess that very few pilots will be anywhere close to maxing out hours, and will get the 70 hour minimum pay without flying even nearly that much

Bottom line

United Airlines is the first US airline I know of to offer leave as a result of reduced demand following the coronavirus outbreak. This seems like a smart move on their part, and a win-win.

I imagine there are lots of wide body pilots out there right now who are barely flying, so the airlines might as well give pilots the opportunity to take time off while still getting some pay, rather than paying all pilots for the 70 hour monthly minimum.

I’ll be curious to see if American and Delta offer similar opportunities to their pilots, and if any of the “big three” offer paid leave to flight attendants.

(Tip of the hat to Paddle Your Own Kanoo)

  1. What about the Eva airways flight from ord and Taipe? Still flying ? We have booked for trip in August.

  2. @lucky just wondering, why can’t the airlines shift the widebodies easily? Currently hoping an upcoming trip to SA gets switched to the new seats.

  3. @Jim – August is a long-ish way away. Why even ask, honestly!? ALL Pacific cancellations are through March/April as widely reported on here and ummm well through every publication that covers traffic, so what answer are you looking for regarding your flight in August? ;-).

  4. Asiana has suspended a lot of flights to multiple destinations as well…
    I guess I will not be getting home any time soon…

  5. I think it would be more appropriate to say that the pilots “fly” around 1000 hours annually. There is work beyond that as well, including training, that is over & above this, if I am not wrong.

  6. If United hasn’t finished installing Polaris seating on all of their widebodies, this would be the perfect opportunity.

  7. I’m on 919 later this week. Tons of open seats. Same for 988 out of FRA. I suppose their European routes are taking a beating too? The Polaris upgrade was instant.

  8. They should swap in newer 777s and the 787 for flights to HNL. The old 777 that flies between HNL and SFO plain suck.

  9. Loads of global conferences in Europe are canceling out—with schedules from next week and into the summer.

    That’s another hard dent in demand.

  10. Whenever you talk hourly rate, worth mentioning the preflight, reviewing the weather, time spent on the airplane not flying, etc – all unpaid.

    Another note- this leave was offered to FO’s only, not the senior CA you give in your example. 🙂

  11. @Christian — good idea to up the conversion of United’s long-haul fleet to Polaris. However, they’re being done in China, so it’ll be interesting to see if even the current rate is maintained.

    @James — boy am I on board with that suggestion! And I’ve gathered in other forums that United has no plan to convert those old 777s. At all. Ever. LOL

  12. This is stick time

    Does not take into account report time, sign off, turn times, ground training, home reserve, transport etc

    Please don’t anyone think pilots get paid for only working 70-80hrs a month

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