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United Airlines Sees a Profitable Future Despite Downsizing

Airline says it must become “smaller” to survive but sees the need for human interaction as the fuel for its profitability

In a not unanticipated move, United Airlines has determined that its management needs to be 30 percent smaller. A company memo to staff was seen and reported by Reuters and other media.

In an appearance on MSNBC Live with Stephanie Ruhle on May 5, United’s chief communications officer Josh Earnest said that although reductions were necessary and United would ultimately need to become “smaller,” he saw a profitable future for the airline.

“I don’t think anyone knows what the long-term normal looks like but there is a long-term future for the airline,” Earnest said. “We are confident that we are going to be able to come back,” he added, saying that “there is no replacement for an in-person interaction that is our bread and butter.”

Earnest cited United’s pivots to provide health and safety for travelers including the requirement of masks for passenger and airline crew, a new “electrostatic” cleaning device for planes that is hospital standard, boarding from back to front (a first among US airlines) and new artificial intelligence that allows “smart boarding” allowing social distancing on flights.

The middle seats remain closed on United although other airlines are handling measures for social distancing with a variety of strategies.

Earnest said that these changes and other possible new solutions to flying safely would be done in tandem with science and health experts. With these new standards in place, Earnest claimed that United and all US airlines would see a return to profitability.

“We are going to be able to get back to work to provide the essential human connection that only airlines can provide,” he told Ruhle.