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CNBC’s Becky Quick Grills United Airlines CEO on Ambitious Claim

Memorial Day Weekend is always one of the busiest times of the year to travel. But this upcoming weekend could be the busiest one since the pandemic ended.

United Airlines  (UAL) – Get Free Report CEO Scott Kirby went on CNBC’s Squawk Box to talk about the upcoming weekend, which he believes will see 2.9 million passengers — the busiest ever for the airline.

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In the interview, Kirby noted that demand for airline travel, which has increased greatly in the post-pandemic era, shows no sign of slowing down, and that United Airlines had six of its busiest booking days ever in May, and the other four were in March “before Silicon Valley Bank,” he notes.

He also laid out some ambitious plans, including adding 12 new gates, and more flights in smaller markets. 

“We’re going to double the amount of passengers we’re going to carry, versus pre-pandemic within a few years” he said, while also lamenting “airport constraints,” such as airports that lack enough space to be functional, in his view. 

“It’s nice to have a lot of shops on the ground when you’re standing in security, but it’s a lot better to not have lines that go out the door.” He also noted that “there’s fewer air traffic controllers today than there were 30 years ago.”

But Becky Quick pushed back against his prediction to double passengers. 

“I don’t see how that’s possible, because thing are bursting at the seams right now,” she pointed out. “None of these are fixes that can be corrected any time soon. You’re talking about getting through security, you’re talking about getting your bag back,” she said, before relaying a story about flying through Newark Airport’s B Terminal, in which “it took forever to get the luggage, and then there’s no connection, the monorail system is not connected there and is not going to be for years. You’re talking about some major hurdles to getting to that goal. What makes you think you can possibly get there?”

After noting that “you should be flying out of the A and C terminals in United, Becky,” Kirby stated “there’s a lot of progress being made,” pointing out that Terminal A is open but “not open up to 100%. That’s investments that started years ago that are beginning to pay off.”

“When I say we’re going to double the traffic….that’s by the time we get to 2027 versus 2019. We have time to work on all these things,” he said, adding “there’s ways to grow, but it is going to require investments in airports.”

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