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United CEO takes private plane as thousands stranded by cancellations

That day, the airline canceled 750 flights — roughly one-fourth of its schedule.
United plane takes off
Posted at 9:08 AM, Jul 01, 2023

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby took a private plane to Denver Wednesday as thousands of customers were left stranded due to cancellations.

The Associated Press reports that Kirby flew private from New Jersey to Denver on Wednesday. That day, the airline canceled 750 flights — roughly one-fourth of its schedule, according to the AP. Denver International Airport saw 169 cancellations and 299 delays on Wednesday, according to flight tracking website FlightAware.

Kirby issued the following statement:

Taking a private jet was the wrong decision because it was insensitive to our customers who were waiting to get home. I sincerely apologize to our customers and our team members who have been working around-the-clock for several days -- often through severe weather -- to take care of our customers. Watching our team firsthand with our customers at four different airports and during countless meetings this week, it’s clear to me they represent the best of United, and I regret that I have distracted from their professionalism. I promise to better demonstrate my respect for the dedication of our team members and the loyalty of our customers.

The troubles began over the weekend and trickled into the week.

More than 6,000 flights were canceled across the country from Sunday to Tuesday, according to FlightAware, in part due to severe weather. United passengers were forced to sleep on cots or the floor at DIA due to the volume of cancellations.

Scripps News Denver

ABC News on Tuesday obtained a letter from Kirby that reads, "I'm also frustrated that the FAA frankly failed us this weekend."

ABC News via Scripps News Denver

Kirby went on to say, "the FAA reduced the arrival rates by 40% and the departure rates by 75%. That is almost certainly a reflection of understaffing/lower experience at the FAA."

According to Kirby, the airline estimated that over 150,000 customers on United alone were impacted over the weekend because of FAA staffing issues and the agency's ability to manage traffic.

The response from the FAA was, "We will always collaborate with anyone seriously willing to join us to solve a problem."

However, in a statement to Scripps News Denver, a United spokesperson said "recurring thunderstorms in the Northeast have made airline operations very challenging. We know our customers are eager to get to their destinations. Our teams at airports and our contact centers have been working significant overtime to restore the reliability our customers depend on."

In a series of tweets Friday, United said there has been "meaningful improvement across our operation." The airline said it expects cancellations and delays to decrease as we head into the holiday weekend.

As of 8 p.m. Friday, United has seen 84 cancellations and 336 delays at DIA, according to FlightAware.

This story was originally published by Sydney Isenberg at Scripps News Denver.

Scripps News reporter Mary Chao boards a train.

Scripps News reporter books train after days of flight cancellations

Mary Chao decided to book a 21-hour train ride from Orlando to New York after several days of flight cancellations.