April 15, 2024

A taking-off United Airlines plane seen through a stack of shipping containers and port cranes in Newark, New Jersey

A United Airlines plane
Photo: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg (Getty Images)

Boeing’s 737 Max mess is causing even more headaches for United Airlines. As the carrier waits longer and longer for its long-awaited new plane orders, it is asking its pilots to take unpaid time off because the manufacturer has yet to deliver the jets United needs to refresh its aging fleet.

“Due to recent changes to our Boeing deliveries, the remaining 2024 forecast block hours for United have been significantly reduced,” the United chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association, the pilots’ union, told members Friday, as reported by CNBC. “While the delivery issues surround our 787 and 737 fleets, the impact will affect other fleets as well.” Fewer block hours means fewer hours flying.

Boeing has long had trouble delivering planes on time, but those delays will be exacerbated by additional scrutiny that has come in the wake of a 737 Max 9 door plug blowout in January. The news comes less than a month after United told its pilots that it would be initiating a hiring freeze due to the delays.

“We have a significant fleet of 777 and 767 that need to retire at some point later this decade,” Andrew Nocella, United’s chief commercial officer, said on an earnings call in October. The 737 Max 8 and 9 make up about 12% of United’s overall fleet according to its latest annual report (pdf). Plus, half of the 725 planes that the company has on order through 2033 are 737 Maxes.

Meanwhile, United just went through an ugly month of safety incidents, many of which involved its older Boeing planes. The company is worried that its growth will slow down for “years” while Boeing works out its issues. In a sign that patience is running thin, United is reportedly working on a deal to lease several dozen planes from Boeing’s biggest rival, Airbus.

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