June 4, 2023

close video Former United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz rips US’ air traffic control systems as ‘most outdated’

Former United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz discusses a government report blaming airlines for cancellations, retention in employees, and his new book, “Turnaround Time.”

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby is warning Tuesday that a push from President Biden and his administration to require airlines to compensate passengers whose flights were delayed or canceled is "bad public policy" and raises safety concerns. 

Kirby’s remarks to NBC’s "Today" come two weeks after the Department of Transportation announced a proposal to require airlines to provide compensation and cover expenses for amenities — including meals, hotels and rebooking flights — when airlines are deemed responsible for stranding passengers at an airport. 

"I don’t want our employees even thinking about cost when they are making safety decisions. We have spent our whole careers in aviation telling employees don’t think about cost, only think about safety," Kirby said. 

"And this would just start to chip away at that structural foundation of safety in the industry, so I think it is really bad public policy," he added. 


United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, right, is speaking out Tuesday against a Biden administration push to require compensation for passengers when there is a controllable airline cancelation or significant delay. (Kiyoshi Ota-Pool/Logan Cyrus/AFP via Getty Images)

President Biden, at the time of the Department of Transportation announcement, said "I know how frustrated many of you are with the service you get from your U.S. airlines, especially after you, the American taxpayer, stepped up in 2020, in the last administration, in the early days of the pandemic, to provide nearly $50 billion of assistance to keep the airline industry and its employees afloat." 

"That's why our top priority has been to get American air travelers a better deal," he continued, adding "You deserve more than just getting the price of your ticket [refunded] – you deserve to be fully compensated. Your time matters, the impact on your life matters." Stocks in this Article UAL UNITED AIRLINES HOLDINGS INC. $47.87 +0.46 (+0.97%)

However, Kirby said Tuesday that "We have built the safest industry in the world and the United States safety system is by far the pinnacle of safety standard anywhere in the world. And we have done that by telling our employees ‘don’t ever think about cost.’" 

"It’s always about safety, safety, safety. It’s in our DNA," Kirby continued. "And I don’t think that we should allow any kind of chipping away at that foundation of safety and introducing expense into employees’ decisions when they are deciding whether to send a flight or not, or cancel or delay a flight for a safety issue." 


United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby told NBC’s “Today” show that “We have spent our whole careers in aviation telling employees dont think about cost, only think about safety,” (Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images / Getty Images)

Kirby also said "United is running the best operation we have had in history. And by far the biggest issue in aviation is air traffic control.  

"And we agree with the FAA that said they are 3,000 controllers short, that we need to fix that," he added. "It is the overwhelming issue we need to solve. And I think that should be our focus." 

The DOT said earlier this month it has worked to improve passengers' travel experiences for the past two years, adding that the 10 largest airlines now guarantee meals and free rebooking on the same airline, and nine guarantee hotel accommodations as part of the Department’s Airline Customer Service Dashboard.  

The proposed rulemaking would address compensation for passengers when there is a controllable airline cancelation or significant delay, such as a meal or meal voucher, overnight accommodations, ground transportation to and from a hotel, and rebooking for controllable delays or cancelations. Timely customer service during and after periods of widespread flight irregularities would also be addressed. 

A United Airlines jetliner taxis to a runway for take off from Denver International Airport on Dec. 27, 2022. United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said Tuesday that “United is running the best operation we have had in history.” (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File / AP Newsroom)


The exact definition of a controllable cancellation or delay has not yet been provided by the DOT. 

Similar policies requiring additional compensation for passengers already exist in Canada and the European Union, according to the DOT, which also cited a study that found compensation for inconvenience has led to decreased flight delays in the EU. 

Fox Business’ Landon Mion contributed to this report. 

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