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Scott Kirby on how gas prices and staffing could impact summer travelers

Date: May 18, 2022

BY TORI B. POWELL, CBS NEWS

With rising gas prices, staffing shortages and unpredictable weather, travelers this busy summer season could see higher airfare prices and extra airport wait times, according to United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby. But amid these challenges, Kirby says the airline is prepared to address potential hiccups. 

"We really are ready at United," Kirby told CBS Mornings co-hosts Gayle King, Tony Dokoupil and Nate Burleson Tuesday. "You can book with confidence." 

United says it's preparing for its "busiest summer since the pandemic," with a record number of fliers forecast to travel on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. The airline expects around 4,000 daily flights this summer, which exceeds a third more than that of which operated in 2021.

But due to the pandemic's impact, United is currently flying a 13% smaller schedule than it was before COVID-19, Kirby said. As cases of the virus continue to climb across the United States and record travel demand is expected, staffing shortages that affect TSA are exacerbated, he said.  

"The sick calls are higher in all businesses than they were before, and so probably get to the airport earlier than you normally would," Kirby told CBS Mornings. 

He noted that the airline has plans to "ramp up" its flight schedule over time. "That's the key to making sure we're ready," he said. "Don't get ahead of what the system can support right now."

Even despite the millions of anticipated customers and record revenue reported this quarter, airfare prices in April rose 18.6%, according to a consumer price index report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It's the largest-ever monthly increase for the expense since the agency began compiling data in 1963.

Kirby said jet fuel prices along with COVID-19 economic losses are behind the price increase, as the airlines' profitability is still lower than it used to be. 

"We're in the recovery mode from COVID and trying to come out of what was the most devastating crisis in the history aviation," he said. "We've got to get back. We made it. We survived through the crisis, but now at United we took on an extra $22 billion of debt. We've got to start paying that down. We've at least got to recover the increase in jet fuel prices." 


Kirby said the airline is "doing all kinds of things" to work at improving customer satisfaction like better communicating with customers during weather events and "investing in the experience." 

"It really is changing at United," he said. 

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