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United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby addresses pilot mental health concerns amid surge in air travel

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Following recent scares involving pilots, and as a record number of travelers take to the skies, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby told “CBS Mornings” that the company works to make sure pilots’ mental health is “in a good place.”

Kirby said United pilots undergo training every nine months, including simulator sessions designed to prepare them for scenarios that he said will hopefully never happen. The training, combined with the airline’s policies, aim to ensure pilots are mentally and physically fit to handle the stresses of flying.

“We have all kinds of policies in place where people can, whether it’s a mental health or substance abuse, anything that’s going on in their lives, illness, even fatigue, that they can call off and not come to work without penalties, without repercussions, and they have really good protections to ensure that that doesn’t happen,” said Kirby.

Last month, an off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot was accused of trying to shut down a plane’s engines midflight while catching a ride in the cockpit from Washington state to San Francisco. There have also been a number of pilots speaking out about not seeking mental health treatment for fear of losing their jobs.

In response, the Federal Aviation Administration recently announced it is creating a new committee that will examine pilot mental health and some challenges pilots face in reporting mental health issues to the agency.

Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration recorded its busiest day ever over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, with nearly 3 million passengers flying on Sunday. United Airlines reported welcoming over 4-and-a-half million travelers during the holiday week, a 9% increase from last year.

Earlier this month, a U.S. Senate panel announced it would be investigating the rise in seat and baggage fees for five major airlines, including United.

Kirby said that the airline has worked hard to reduce fees and has gotten rid of change fees. While baggage fees in the airline industry are up nearly $2 billion in the last four years, Kirby said United has earned more from baggage fees because of an increase in volume, not an increase in its fees.

“There are some other airlines that have, you know, have added a lot of fees, some of which I think are egregious,” he said.

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