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Head of United Airlines pilot union resigns after comments surface

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A United Airlines passenger aircraft prepares to depart its gate and taxi to the runway at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, California.

Robert Alexander | Getty Images

The newly elected leader of United Airlines pilots’ union has resigned after a series of his recent online posts sparked an outcry from another aviators and union leaders.

Neil Swindells, a Chicago-based Boeing 787 captain, was narrowly elected earlier this week to steer the union of greater than 14,000 pilots. A number of the messages had surfaced before the union leadership’s vote, which he narrowly won. The election was held after the previous chairman resigned on account of a family issue.

Swindells, who couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, announced his resignation in a note to pilots late Wednesday.

United Airlines didn’t immediately comment. Swindells, as head of the pilot union, would have had a seat on United’s board of directors. The airline and the union are in the course of contract negotiations and former efforts to get to a deal have failed.

On Sept. 16, two days after United announced a partnership with one-time rival Emirates at an event at Washington Dulles International Airport, Swindells wrote on a personal message board for pilots: “And I’m sure EMIRATES had NOTHING TO DO with the EMIRATES MALE CAPTAIN being flanked” by a United “FEMALE FIRST OFFICER.”

He wrote that the event showed Emirates’ “DOMINANCE OF THE CODESHARE, while giving UNITED their desired DEI money shot!!!”

DEI is a commonly used shorthand for diversity, equity and inclusion. Code-sharing within the aviation industry is when airlines partner to market one another’s flights.

Swindells, who has been at United for nearly three many years, apologized “to anyone I even have offended” on Tuesday for language “that was often colourful, heated, and inappropriate,” but declined to step down on the time.

In his resignation note to pilots Wednesday night, he said that “while a lot of these items have been taken completely out of context and publicly weaponized against me, I cannot ignore their existence and the damaging effect it has had on a lot of my fellow pilots.”

Screenshots of a few of Swindells posts were shared with CNBC.

Hours before he stepped down, the top of the Air Line Pilots Association, International, the parent union of the United and other airlines’ chapters, issued a press release saying it will at all times “stand and fight” for an inclusive aviation community.

“Under our democratic structure, United pilots elect their leaders and it’s as much as them to choose who they need on the helm,” Capt. Joe DePete wrote.

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