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United Pilots to CEO: ‘Lead or Get Out of the Way’

For United’s pilots, the airline’s first-quarter loss of $609 million was apparently the last straw.

In a strongly worded letter to members of the Washington chapter of the Airline Pilots Association, leaders of the pilots union alluded to “a strategic plan to force our leadership team to lead,” according to a report by TheStreet.

Details of the plan weren’t disclosed, but they’re less important than the aggressively adversarial tone of the pilots’ message to the company’s management team.

“The leadership team at United Airlines is failing at our great company,” the letter pointedly accused. The plan was designed to force United CEO Jeff Smisek to “lead or get out of the way.”

Referring to improved operating and financial performance at American and Delta, the pilots warned of the widening gap among the country’s top-three airlines: “Without a plan to force leadership here, we will end up in a distant third and not even be in the same playing field as our two major competitors.”

Strong words, from a key segment of the airline’s workforce. And they’re words that Smisek can’t afford to ignore. As he undoubtedly knows, the 1994 ouster of United’s then-CEO Stephen Wolf was credited largely to efforts of the airline’s pilots, who found his leadership lacking.

Reader Reality Check

Is it time for United to make a change at the top?

This article originally appeared on

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