United Pilots
The B-787 is one of many aircraft in United’s fleet.

In 2021, United Airlines pilots took a major turn toward a renewed and bright future following a period of extreme uncertainty and instability for the global airline industry.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the pilot group signed an agreement that kept United’s 13,700-plus pilots trained, certified, and ready for a bounce back in passenger demand. As 2021 came to a close, the pilot group saw the benefits of those strategic decisions.

The spring and summer of 2021 saw a much-welcomed rebound in passenger flying. In May, the United Master Executive Council (MEC) successfully negotiated a voluntary vaccination agreement that provided industry-leading compensation, resulting in 91 percent of pilots being fully vaccinated in the initial days under this voluntary program. The agreement also postponed mandates, providing enough time for pilots to have their vaccine questions answered.

“Our industry-leading vaccine agreement in spring 2021 was negotiated with the goal of protecting our fellow crewmembers, coworkers, and passengers while ensuring that pilots continued to have a choice,” said Capt. Todd Insler, the pilots’ MEC chair. “The company signaled a desire to require vaccinations in early summer. We wanted to give our pilots more time to make this personal decision, and with this agreement we were able to do that.”

In August, the pilots, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Defense, began flying U.S. citizens and refugees out of Afghanistan as that country fell into the hands of the Taliban. The flights were part of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) mission. United pilots successfully transported thousands of U.S. citizens and Afghan evacuees to safety. “The government called on United pilots in a time of need,” Insler observed. “It’s an honor to serve a vital role in bringing U.S. citizens home and helping ensure that our allies are out of harm’s way. ALPA worked closely with United Airlines and the U.S. government during this critical national emergency and historic CRAF activation.”

Looking ahead to 2022, United continues to hire pilots at a record pace, and the pilot group welcomes those who are joining its ranks. The airline’s Aviate program offers the most direct path to a United flight deck, and by the fall of 2021, every Aviate pilot at United Express was offered a class date at mainline United. The airline’s Aviate Academy, which ALPA has had an integral part in developing, announced it will train 5,000 new pilots by 2030, at least half of whom will be women and other people from underrepresented groups.

Besides already having the largest passenger widebody fleet, United also placed a historic aircraft order, purchasing 270 new Boeing and Airbus aircraft. “The addition of these 270 new airplanes and reduction of single-class regional jets isn’t only good news for customers, but also excellent news for the 13,700-plus current United pilots, and the 10,000 more we expect to hire before the decade is out,” commented Insler.

There’s a bright future ahead for the pilot group. With all the pilots have accomplished throughout the course of these recent turbulent times, they expect their next contract to reflect that. “Our unity as a pilot group has led us through each challenge we’ve faced. As long as that remains, our pilots will accomplish every goal we set for 2022 and beyond,” Insler said.