Remember 'Hernando's Hideaway?' You had to 'knock three times and whisper low that you and I were sent by Joe.' I hope will open some business-travel doors.

Tactical Traveler, May 18, 2000 -- United Airlines has canceled hundreds of flights in the last week due to a dispute with its pilots. Cancellations reached 10 percent of United's schedule on Saturday, but the situation has been less severe during the business week. Unannounced cancellations are expected to continue for several more weeks, however.

Tactical Traveler, June 08, 2000 -- The mainstream media's coverage of United's proposed purchase of US Airways has been fairly predictable: lots of talk about size, speculation about counterpunches from other carriers and too little focus on hard-core facts. So here are three facts worth considering. Fact No. 1: The only guaranteed winners in the transaction would seem to be US Airways chairman Stephen Wolf and chief executive Rakesh Gangwal. Assuming the deal goes through and Wolf activates the change-of-control clauses of his contract, exercises his options and leaves the company, he will walk away with $71 million. Gangwal would walk with $49 million. Both joined the company in 1996. Fact No. 2: The guaranteed losers in the transaction would seem to be Philadelphia-area frequent flyers. That's because the combined carriers would have 100 percent of the service on routes from Philadelphia to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Denver. Fact No. 3: United is attempting to take over an airline while its own performance is deteriorating. According to Transportation Department figures released last week, United in April had the worst on-time performance (65.6 percent) among the nation's ten major carriers. It also recorded an industry-worst rating of 5.87 misplaced bags per 1,000 passengers. United also racked up a higher ratio of passenger complaints and canceled a higher percentage of its daily flights than US Airways.

Tactical Traveler, July 13, 2000 -- Experienced inept service from United Airlines lately? You're not alone. United has skidded to the bottom of almost every category tracked in the Transportation Department's monthly Air Travel Consumer Report. According to the most recent report, released last week and covering travel in May, only 56.6 percent of United's flights arrived on time compared to the industry average of 73.4 percent. Worse, United canceled more than 5,900 flights in May, equal to 8.7 percent of the airline's schedule. (Southwest canceled less than 1 percent of its flights in May.) United also has the worst mishandled-bag rate--6.71 reports per 1,000 passengers compared to an industry-average of 4.80--and racked up more than twice as many customer complaints than the average of the nation's 10 major carriers.

Tactical Traveler, August 3, 2000 -- With United setting records for major-carrier ineptitude and about half its flights running late, readers have their own suggestions for dealing with the nation's largest airline. This one from a frequent flyer in Denver who requested anonymity. "After four miserable roundtrips on United in July, I told my wife, 'Let's act like United's on strike, because, as a practical matter, it is.' "

Tactical Traveler, August 10, 2000 -- It's been another bad week to be a United customer. The airline abruptly cancelled more than 300 flights on Saturday, about 250 on Sunday and at least 240 on Monday. Sunday's cancellations were due in part to bad weather, but the other dropped flights were a result of the airline's severe crew shortage and its inability to come to contract terms with disgruntled pilots. United's reaction to its latest woes was typical: an official statement saying management was "agonized by the pain and suffering" inflicted on passengers; off-the-record comments shifting the blame for the airline's collapse to the pilots; and the pre-emptive cancellation of about 3,900 flights in September and October. And rather than bring management's full attention to bear on its current service problems, United instead chose to assign at least 20 top executives to a team planning for the proposed merger with US Airways. Leading the transition team? Chris Bowers, senior vice president of North America. He apparently has plenty of extra time on his hands now that United has canceled all those flights.

These items originally ran at This annotation originally appeared at in December, 2002.


United had been running so poorly for so long, even a skeptic like me treated the first signs of the 2000 meltdown as just another bad, if notable, week. So the Tactical Traveler item of May 18 is more matter-of-fact than outraged. Three weeks later, everyone was riveted by the dirty details of the proposed United-US Airways merger. US Airways' two top officials were going to collect a combined $120 million for selling off the carrier to United. But United's meltdown was becoming apparent by July. And while one of my readers offered a tongue-in-cheek approach to riding out the storm (August 3), the astonishing form of United's operational collapse was now simply impossible to ignore. But United did, in fact, ignore it. Rather than act to fix its problems, United diverted its top talent (such as it was) to a merger transition team. Even now, with several years of hindsight, the actions of United's top management were completely inexplicable and totally indefensible. -- J.B.

Copyright 1999 - 2004 by Joe Brancatelli.

JoeSentMe is Copyright 2004 by Joe Brancatelli.