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United CEO Warns Proposed Change Could Make Flights Less Safe

Scott Kirby voiced concerns about how a new policy might impact workers' decisions.

Even if you're not an anxious flyer, you probably still think about your personal safety when boarding a flight. Accidents are rare, but they can happen, which is why airlines go to great lengths to keep travelers safe and ensure aircraft is up to snuff ahead of takeoff. Now, however, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby has expressed concerns about safety, particularly regarding a proposed change to customer compensation in the event of a flight delay. Read on to find out why Kirby believes this new policy could make flying less safe.

RELATED: Travelers Are Boycotting Southwest Over New Boarding Change.

Plans to increase compensation for delays were announced earlier this year.


Earlier this week, Kirby addressed the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) potential plans to up reimbursement for travelers affected by delays and cancellations, Bloomberg reported. If an official change were to be approved, compensation would be increased to account for the hotels, meals, and re-bookings that result from flight disruptions, the DOT first announced in May.

Kirby spoke on the potential change at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Aerospace Summit in Washington, D.C., stating that an increase would cost the aviation industry "a god-awful amount of money," per Bloomberg.

But beyond the financial impact, Kirby voiced fears about the change's impact on safety.

RELATED: JetBlue Is Cutting Flights to 6 Major Cities, Starting Oct. 28.

Kirby argued that it could factor into workers' decisions.

ground personnel inspecting plane
industryviews / Shutterstock

While it's unclear whether the plan will be adopted, Kirby said that he will be "adamantly vocal" in opposing it, as he believes a change to compensation could negatively affect decisions made by airline employees.

"We should never risk changing the safety culture in aviation," Kirby said. "I do not want a pilot, I do not want a mechanic, thinking about the extra cost of delay when they're thinking about a decision."

According to Bloomberg, Kirby didn't elaborate on why the industry would allow employees to disregard safety concerns for the sake of their jobs.

RELATED: United Is Cutting Flights to 8 Major Cities, Starting in October.

The change might not have direct safety implications.

woman hearing that her flight is delayed – Yuri A / Shutterstock

This isn't the first time that Kirby expressed this point of view, according to View From the Wing. Earlier this summer, he suggested that the compensation increase could encourage airlines to fly in marginal conditions, rather than deferring to the safest course of action.

Specifically, the policy could make them less inclined to call for mechanical delays and more inclined to test boundaries with weather conditions.

However, View From the Wing notes that Kirby is ignoring the fact that when airlines were regulated by the government—overseeing prices and where they flew—the aviation industry benefitted. Additionally, United has a partnership with Lufthansa, which, as a European airline, is required to compensate passengers under EU regulation 261 (EU 261). View From the Wing notes that Kirby "surely doesn't think his joint venture partner Lufthansa is unsafe?"

The outlet also points out that the importance of safety is drilled into airline workers, and that airlines can still go bankrupt without compromising safety.

Of course, United doesn't want to shell out increased compensation, but View From the Wing argues that Kirby shouldn't play safety "as a trump card." According to the outlet, while it's becoming more common, it's still a bit "taboo" to question the safety of the aviation industry publicly.

RELATED: TSA Officers Just Revealed the 6 Things They "Never Do When Flying."

You can see what each U.S. airline is "committed" to providing for cancellations and delays.

u.s. department of transportation website
Gil C / Shutterstock

No change to reimbursement is being made just yet, but if you do face disruptions, you can visit the DOT website. The site offers information on what each U.S. airline provides in terms of "controllable cancellations," as well as fee-free family seating.

If you experience delays or cancellations of a flight that's leaving a European Union (EU) country, or traveling to the EU on an airline that's based there, it's worth looking into compensation. According to View From the Wing, under EU 261, you're entitled to reimbursement for delays, cancellations, and denied boarding due to overbooking.

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Abby Reinhard
Abby Reinhard is a Senior Editor at Best Life, covering daily news and keeping readers up to date on the latest style advice, travel destinations, and Hollywood happenings. Read more
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