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United Airlines offers triple pay to pilots amid travel chaos

The pay bump will extend from Dec. 30 to Jan. 29, an airline executive said.
Travelers walk through Terminal 1 at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on Dec. 30, 2021.
Travelers walk through Terminal 1 at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on Dec. 30, 2021.Nam Y. Huh / AP

United Airlines said Friday that it will offer triple pay to pilots who pick up extra flights as bad weather and the omicron variant continue to slam the airline industry, with thousands of trips canceled since Christmas.

A flight operations executive with the company, Bryan Quigley, said in a staff note obtained by NBC News that pilots would earn three-and-a-half times their pay for additional flights between Dec. 30 and Jan. 3. 

They’ll earn triple pay for flying extra between Jan. 4 and 29, the note says.

Quigley called the offer "significant" and said the company reached the agreement with the Airline Pilots Association in an effort "to do everything we can to take care of our customers during this challenging time."

Since Dec. 23, United, Delta Airlines, Alaska Airlines and other carriers combined have canceled more than 10,000 flights, CNBC reported. The companies have blamed winter weather and spikes in sick calls as the highly transmissible omicron variant spreads around the United States and world.

On Friday, nearly 1,600 flights were canceled into and out of the United States, according to tracking site Flightaware.

In Denver, where a storm was expected to drop as much as half a foot of snow, the airport notched the most cancellations in the world, with 157 as of Friday afternoon.

While the temporary pay bump is in effect at United, rest requirements for pilots will remain the same, as will the number of hours they are allowed to work, a company official said.

The official couldn't provide additional details about what these limits are but said: "The main thing is that most pilots have room in their schedules (within the limits) to pick up extra trips, and this gives them additional compensation if they choose to do that."

The union did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether the agreement could leave their pilots dangerously exhausted.