United moving flight crews out of city hotels ahead of election to ensure 'safety and suitable rest'
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United Airlines is moving flight crews away from downtown hotels across the country this week in anticipation of potential election unrest.
United sent an urgent message to flight attendants on Friday about the changes.
"As we approach the 2020 presidential election, there is a possibility of renewed protest activity,'' the alert from inflight administration says. "We are taking precautionary measures to ensure your safety and suitable rest are met.''
The Chicago-based airline said it will move crews out of downtown hotels to airport hotels in "specific cities due to potential disruptions that could impact layovers at these locations.''
Affected cities include Seattle, Washington, Denver, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Portland, Ore.
The switch began Monday and is expected to last a week, the airline told employees.
Airlines routinely switch up crew hotels to make sure flight attendants and pilots don't get stuck, but it's usually because of issues like weather, public transportation or traffic snarls, or large downtown events, not the threat of political unrest over a U.S. election. United and other carriers did make crew hotel moves over the summer and fall when protests mounted due to a national racial reckoning following the death of George Floyd.
United said it also plans to move its flight network operations center to a backup facility outside downtown Chicago to ensure its operations stay on track in the wake of any protests. The airline made a similar move this summer.
United's major competitors would not detail their plans, if any, to adjust crew hotels this week, but all said flight crew security is top of mind.
Southwest Airlines has not changed its crew hotels, spokesman Brian Parrish said. "Should unrest occur this week, our network operations team will manage any crew hotel needs with Southwest employees' safety as the number one priority,'' he said via email.
Delta has the ability to shift crew hotels if warranted, but the airline doesn't detail location or duration specifics "out of many safety and security considerations,'' spokesman Morgan Durrant said via email.
American Airlines spokesman Anthony Flynn said, "We are closely monitoring the situation and will make adjustments as needed. The safety of our team members is our highest priority.''
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