United Airlines will open new pilot bases in Florida and Nevada next spring. The move comes as contact negotiations continue after pilots rejected a previous agreement in November.
The Chicago-based carrier plans to open a new crew base in Las Vegas with 204 pilots, and Orlando with 300 pilots next May — its first in nearly 20 years — United Managing Director of Flight Crew Resources Zach Shapiro told crews in a memo Wednesday viewed by Airline Weekly. Pilots in both bases would exclusively operate the Boeing 737, of which United few 389 aircraft and had orders for another 353 at the end of September. The Orlando domicile could also include pilots based at the nearby Tampa airport in the future.
The bases, which could make life easier for United pilots living in the Las Vegas or Orlando areas, come amid contentious contract negotiations with the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). The current contract became amendable in 2019. A tentative agreement that the airline and union reached in June was overwhelmingly rejected by pilots last month with many demanding higher raises. And United pilots picketed at the airline’s hubs for the first time in nearly a decade in November.
Pilots at American Airlines have also picketed as talks between the carrier and its pilots union, the Allied Pilots Association, continue. And at Delta Air Lines, its ALPA-represented pilots in November authorized a potential strike if the carrier and union cannot reach a deal.
The situation airlines face is complicated by complaints of overwork by some pilots during the pandemic recovery, as well as the shortage primarily affecting U.S. regional airlines. Both factors are driving pilots to push for higher wages and other quality of life improvements in their next contract. In June, pilots at certain American regional affiliates received raises that put their pay on par with that at some low-cost carriers, which has added fuel to demands for higher pay across the sector.
In his memo, Shapiro described the new bases as beneficial to pilots, travelers, and the airline through operational improvements. Florida and Nevada, he said, are home to the largest concentrations of United pilots outside of the airline’s existing bases. For example, roughly 1,100 pilots live in Florida. These crew members currently commute to work at airports where there are bases, like Los Angeles or Newark. Eliminating the need for these commutes with locally-based pilots, he said, would reduce delays and “drive operational integrity and recovery during off-schedule operations.”
“These circumstances create a natural opportunity to take flying that already exists today and crew it from such cities,” Shapiro said, in what he described as a “win-win-win” solution referring to pilots, customers, and the airline.
Shapiro added that the new bases do not indicate plans for new United hubs. The airline will maintain current levels of flying, he added.
United will operate an average of 33 departures a day from Las Vegas, and 37 from Orlando in December, according to Diio by Cirium schedules. The airline will average 24 daily departures from Tampa.
The airline also has a maintenance base in Orlando.
The new Las Vegas and Orlando pilot bases come after a wave of base closures by airlines cutting costs during the pandemic. Hard-hit Cathay Pacific Airways has scrapped its overseas crew bases and focused resources on Hong Kong. Delta closed its Cincinnati pilot base in 2021. And United closed its flight attendant bases in Frankfurt, Hong Kong, and Tokyo in 2020.
United currently has nine U.S. pilot bases, almost all located in hubs: Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Guam, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.
An ALPA representative did not respond to a request for comment.