Travel problems could continue until 2023 according to airline CEO

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby offers no false hope to air travelers suffering from a summer of long, winding lines at the airport, only to encounter delayed or canceled flights.

On the one hand, speaking to CNBC on the heels of a positive quarterly earnings report, Kirby said, “We are pleased to be back to profitability.” And while Kirby said air travel conditions would gradually improve, he added that change would not come quickly.

“We’re not going to return to normal use and normal staffing levels until next summer,” Kirby said.

Make adjustments on the fly

“The biggest challenge we face – probably for the next 12 months – is all the infrastructure challenges around aviation,” Kirby said. “It’s infuriating for us at United at the moment because we’ve been able to get ahead and we’ve hired [to address the pilot shortage].”

However, Kirby added: ‘But you look at the mess that’s going on at Heathrow or some of the other challenges we’ve had with air traffic control, or other things around the system, and the system just can’t take over our flying.” In response, Kirby notes “So what we’ve done is just reduce our capacity.”

If you are unfamiliar with the situation at London’s Heathrow Airport, John Holland-Kaye, CEO of the airport, recently announced “we have started to see periods where service drops to a level that is not acceptable: long queues, delays for passengers requiring assistance, baggage not traveling with passengers or arriving late, poor punctuality and last minute cancellations.

As a result, the airport announced that it would cap the number of daily departures at 100,000 from July 12 to September 11. The move aims to “do everything we can to protect passenger vacations and our actions are part of a series of industry actions that will help consumers this summer.

Since then, Heathrow has announced that the flight cap will continue until October 29, according to The temperature.

However, to be fair, Heathrow is not the only European airport to limit daily flights. For example, Frankfurt airport operator Fraport recently announced that it would seek permission from the German Transport Ministry to reduce the number of flights per hour from 96 to 88.

Additionally, London’s Gatwick Airport announced last month that it would institute a capacity cap of 825 flights per day in July and up to 850 per day in August so that passengers “enjoy more service reliable and of better quality”. These figures are down from the approximately 950 daily flights offered before the COVID-19 pandemic.

And in Amsterdam, Schiphol Airport is limiting the number of departing passengers for July and August to minimize traffic congestion and long lines for air travellers. This limit will vary from day to day and will increase to 67,500 in July and 72,500 in August.

There are of course also problems at US airports, which is why Kirby said United has reduced capacity.

For example, Newark Liberty International Airport, located in New Jersey but also 9 miles from Manhattan, has experienced an extremely high number of delays. United announced last month that it would cut flights to Newark by 12% – about 50 flights a day – in a bid to reduce delays, according to The Associated Press. The airline also announced that it was reducing its total number of flights this summer, as well as suspending flights from Flagstaff, Arizona, to Denver; and termination of service from Houston to Texarkana, Arkansas; according USA today.

“All the costs are still there because we are ready to be a much bigger airline – we have the people to be a much bigger airline – but we are going to be a smaller airline until the system can handle it,” Kirby said.

A look at the holidays

Finally, if you’re planning on traveling for the holidays in December, Kirby has some tips.

“Unfortunately, there will always be fewer seats available across the system because the infrastructure around aviation cannot support it,” Kirby said. “You should probably book early for Christmas. We are already planning to fly less to ensure we have reliability.

While you’re thinking about flying, be sure to check out all of our airports and flight content, as well as:

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