United Airlines CEO’s Pay Nearly Doubled in 2023

Skift Take

Due to the end of CARES Act restrictions on executive pay, United CEO Scott Kirby’s total compensation nearly doubled in 2023.

United Airlines’ top executive saw his salary nearly double in 2023. 

United CEO Scott Kirby, who is routinely one of the most highly paid airline executives in the U.S., made nearly $18.6 million in 2023, according to a proxy statement United filed Tuesday night. The year before, Kirby raked in around $9.8 million, and his pay was also around the same in 2021. 

In 2023, Kirby’s base salary was $1,075,000. He received $10.7 million in stock awards and $6.6 million in non-equity incentive compensation. 

The spike in Kirby’s pay is primarily due to the end of CARES Act pay restrictions. Airlines received a $25 billion bailout during the pandemic and due to provisions in the CARES Act, executives couldn’t receive significant increases to their compensation. 

According to language in the bill, compensation was capped at $3 million plus 50% of the amount their total compensation exceeded $3 million in 2019. United was under CARES Act restrictions until April 1, 2023, but has since reverted back to its pre-pandemic executive pay structure. 

Kirby’s 2023 pay is closer to what he made when he was president in 2019, when he took home around $16.8 million.  

United’s Ambitious Plans

Kirby has been a big proponent of significantly growing United’s fleet and network, as part of a plan the carrier calls “United Next.” 

In recent years, United has placed some of the largest aircraft orders in its history and has launched more international routes, including the most recent addition of Newark to Marrakech. The carrier has been bullish on demand for international travel, premium seating and basic economy. 

United has expanded its basic economy offerings, hoping to eat into the ultra-low-cost market share, and at the same time, has been upgrading its international business class product, known as Polaris. 

“All the way from basic economy, which just allows us to compete profitably on price on the low end,” Kirby said on a call with analysts in October, “and all the way up to Polaris on long-haul international, United is able to give our customers the real choice they want.”

However, delivery delays and certification issues with certain Boeing aircraft have hampered some of United’s ambitious growth plans. United initially expected to receive 80 737 Max 10s in 2024, but now doesn’t anticipate those orders will be fulfilled this year as the certification timeline for the plane is unclear. 

As a result, United is pausing pilot hiring between May and June and is also asking some pilots to take unpaid time off in May. 

Kirby has been vocal in his frustrations with the U.S. plane maker. At the JPMorgan Industrials conference, he said it’s “impossible” to know when the Max 10 will be certified. 

United has also faced a string of safety incidents that prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to increase its oversight of the carrier. Kirby sent a letter to passengers in March in an attempt to reassure customers following the incidents. 

“Unfortunately, in the past few weeks, our airline has experienced a number of incidents that are reminders of the importance of safety,” Kirby said in a message to customers March 18. “While they are all unrelated, I want you to know that these incidents have our attention and have sharpened our focus.”

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