United Airlines CEO addresses airline fees, pilot mental health

United Airlines  (UAL) – Get Free Report CEO Scott Kirby has addressed consumers’ latest concerns in a new interview amid record holiday travel where he discussed skyrocketing airline fees and worries of poor pilot mental health.

The CEO first denied increasing airline fees at United amid a U.S. Senate investigation into a rise in hidden airline costs that it cites can be deceiving to customers.

Related: Why an Alaska Airlines pilot faces 83 counts of murder

“At United Airlines, we’ve actually been doing the opposite. We’ve been reducing fees, and the biggest change that I think has happened from a fee perspective was United at the beginning of the pandemic permanently eliminating change fees for customers,” said Kirby in the interview.

Senate investigating airline fees

A panel in the Senate highlighted in a letter last week to executives at major airlines, including United, that it is seeking a breakdown of how much money is collected from each of their fees, why they are charging them to customers and how much it costs to provide each service.

When pressed by “CBS Mornings” co-host Tony Dokoupil on Nov. 30 on the aviation industry making more revenue off of fees – citing data that shows that baggage fees have increased by nearly $2 billion in the last four years, and the industry has collected about $4 billion from seat selection fees – Kirby claimed that the increase of “volume” of people paying for baggage has led to a boost of revenue from fees at United, not an increase in prices.

“At United, our fees for baggage, take baggage for example, haven’t changed in years,” he said, “though, did more volume, so the total dollar amount goes up. There are some other airlines that have added a lot of fees, some of which I think are egregious.”

Ensuring pilots are mentally fit

The CEO also discussed the company’s latest efforts in ensuring pilots are well enough mentally to fly a plane after a concerning incident took place on an Alaska Airlines aircraft in October. A pilot, who was off duty, allegedly said that he was “not okay” and tried to shut off the plane’s engine in the middle of the flight.

“I don’t think people realize that our pilots at United Airlines at least every 9 months go back to our training facility in Denver to train on simulators, and to do in a simulator things that’ll never happen hopefully to them in the real world so that they’re prepared for anything that happens,” he said.

Also, after reports made headlines last month that claimed pilots feared losing their jobs for seeking mental help, Kirby addressed the issue by saying that pilots at United can take time off from work without repercussions if they are suffering mentally or physically.

“At United, we have all kinds of policies in place where people can, whether it’s a mental health or substance abuse, anything that’s going on in their lives, illness, even fatigue, that they can call off and not come to work without penalties, without repercussions, and they have really good protections to ensure that that doesn’t happen,” he said.

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