May 17, 2022 - Economy & Business

United Airlines turns a corner

man in suit on a small stage in front of microphone addressing a crowd of professionals
United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby in New York. Photo: Hope King/Axios

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby rarely has a sleepless night, he said yesterday on the Edge observation deck, 1,100 feet above Manhattan.

Driving the news: Kirby and his team held a reception at the restaurant attached to the tourist attraction to celebrate the launch of United’s new ad campaign, “Good Leads The Way.”

Why it matters: The fact that airlines are advertising again is symbolic of the confidence they have, Helane Becker, a senior research analyst at Cowen, told me at the same event.

Flashback: Two years ago, Kirby — who was about to take the reins — and other airline CEOs were worried about the CARES Act passing, which allocated $25 billion to U.S. passenger airlines.

  • “[We] would have had to shut the airline down [without the funding],” he said. 

State of play: Airlines are in a completely different position now.

  • As demand for travel has surged, airfare prices have risen 33% as of April compared to the same period last year.
  • United said last month that it expects to make a profit this year for the first time since before the pandemic. 

Of note: During Monday’s event, Kirby addressed a crowd of employees, partners and media before playing the new ad spot.

  • “I actually told our board this year that I had the easiest job of anyone at United Airlines … because there’s really only one responsibility — which is to make our employees proud,” he said.
  • “When our employees are proud, and you’re on a flight, they want you to feel about the airline what they feel.”

The big picture: Our interview on the observation deck was cut short by wind and rain, but after the clouds parted, a rainbow appeared above the Empire State building just as a United plane flew above it.

  • That's just how it's going for airlines at the moment.
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