‘Tread Water Indefinitely’: Here’s How United Airlines Plans To Bounce Back From Pandemic Uncertainty

(Photo credit should read MIRA OBERMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

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United Airlines has several plans in place in order to successfully rebound from the pandemic when things return to normal and the demand for travel increases, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

“We can tread water indefinitely I suppose, if we had to,” United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said told The WSJ. “But my guess is that the most likely outcome is by January, we’re kind of back on this road to recovery.” The company’s conclusion was that predicting the pandemic was impossible. United Airlines is now preparing for a rebound when the pandemic’s impact on travel subsided.

The pandemic has proved especially catastrophic for the airline industry, but United Airlines was among the first in March 2020 to reduce flights, start to put together a safety net of cash, and prepare to potentially lay off thousands, according to the WSJ.

When expanding its operations this summer, United Airlines still scheduled 23% less flights than in 2019, which indicated a much modest recovery strategy than that pursued by its rivals. American Airlines and Southwest Airlines scheduled only 15% and 13% less than in 2019, respectively, The WSJ reported.

The company says it is playing a long game by operating fewer flights and keeping pilots on staff, all of which has reportedly helped the airline to avoid the struggles with volatility faced by its competitors. (RELATED: Southwest CEO Denies Rumors Flights Were Cancelled Over Vaccine Mandate)

“We need a plan where we can bounce back and do it really quickly,” United Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Nocella said, according to the WSJ. “But we also need to plan that if we’re going to be small for a long time we need to variablize our costs.”

The company established a “bounceback team” in 2020, which focused on cutting back in the short term and concentrated on the bigger picture for after things return to normal.

United Airlines’ June deal to buy 270 new planes became its biggest order ever. United is also hiring 48 to 50 pilots a week with the summers of 2022 and 2023 in mind.

However, the airline still approaches adding back capacity with plenty of caution in order to avoid overshooting. The leadership prefers riding out the turbulence which can be done thanks to over $20 billion in liquidity, The WSJ reported.

“We recognize we may be a month late or two months late to the party,” Nocella said. “We put a schedule out there that we could fly.”