Metro Weekly

United Airlines Pilot Resigns As Union Head After Anti-Gay Online Posts

Capt. Neil Swindells stepped down after being accused by fellow pilots of posting offensive and prejudiced remarks.

A United Airlines plane – Photo: Noah Wulf, via Wikimedia.

The head of the United Airlines pilots’ union resigned from his position after being accused of posting anti-Semitic, racist, and homophobic messages on a private online forum for pilots.

Captain Neil Swindells, a Chicago-based Boeing 787 captain who has been at United for almost three decades, reportedly made the offending comments under his own name on the forum. According to screenshots from the Aviation blog Live and Let’s Fly, Swindells reportedly responded to a piece of news — it’s unclear what — involving United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby in September 2021.

“Continuing to get your gay man on today, I see. Brava! And if my Aunt had a penis she’d by my Uncle!” Swindells wrote about Kirby, who appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation to talk about COVID-19 vaccination mandates for airline employees that same month.

Another post read: “And I’m sure Emirates had Nothing To Do with the Emirates Male Captain being flanked by a United Female First Officer, either, right??? Every Single Optic was Designed with a nod to Emirates’ Dominance Of The Codeshare, while giving United their desired DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] money shot!!!” 

Swindells also reportedly hurled slurs at various ethnic groups, including the Irish slur “Paddy” and the Italian slur “Wop,” and hurled insults at several other groups, including Jews, women, and gay people, reports CBS News.

Swindells was narrowly elected master chair of the United Master Executive Council of the Air Line Pilot Association — which represents more than 67,000 pilots, including 14,000 who work for United Airlines — on Dec. 19, but his victory apparently upset some people, who took out their frustrations on Twitter, pointing to his messages on the forum, which were made public just prior to the election.

Captain Coleman T. Hamilton, lashed out at Swindells on social media, tweeting that the latter “has a history of saying racist, bigoted and anti Semitic things online. The rest of his thousands of online forum posts are usually angry and mean spirited, but the gay jokes, DEI jokes and anti semitic comments cannot be ignored. MEC was warned.”

Coleman added: “I remain an advocate but cannot pretend we are a welcoming group that represents all pilots regardless of their true self. Very sad day to be a member. It will probably get worse before it gets better.”

Another Twitter user, with the handle @PilotofUnited, called Swindells a racist, to which Coleman noted that Swindells had also made disparaging remarks against women, according to Live and Let’s Fly.

After screenshots of Swindell’s messages were posted online, he issued an apology on Dec. 20, saying he had made many of the comments in the heat of the moment, but expressed hope that he and his detractors could co-exist peacefully.

“I would like to address communications that have surfaced regarding things I posted on a private pilot forum. The language was often colorful, heated, and inappropriate. In retrospect, I wish that I had expressed myself differently,” Swindells said in the apology. “Those words do not represent what I stand for and I apologize to anyone I offended.

“As I stated in my opening message as MEC Chair, I intend to represent all pilots and am dedicated to bringing you an industry-leading contract. We have experienced significant internal turmoil over recent months and it is time for all of us to move forward together,” he added.

But some pilots were not cajoled by his overtures, and insisted that Swindells resign. The following day, on Dec. 21, Swindells released a statement announcing his resignation.

“There has been a significant negative response to things I posted on a pilot forum. While many of these things 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 many of my fellow pilots,” he wrote. “For that, I am truly sorry and apologize unreservedly.”

He also acknowledged that the ongoing controversy over his remarks would continue to serve as a distraction and hamper his effectiveness as head of the union, and offered his resignation.

“I want to thank the many, many people who know me personally and have supported me through the recent days, knowing this attack does not represent who I am as a person, a husband, a father, or a professional pilot at United Airlines,” Swindells concluded. “I have had a spotless record of service to the Association and the Company for over 27 years, but errors in judgment on a pilot forum may have damaged that reputation. I hope it has not.”

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