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

UNITED INHERITS THE WIND
Tactical Traveler, October 12, 2000 -- United Airlines spent most of the spring and the summer denying it had any problems. Then it thought it could buy off travelers with a smarmy apology and some bonus miles. But now the airline is inheriting the wind for its service collapse and deceptions. Domestic traffic plummeted more than 10 percent in September following a 12 percent decline in August. The airline admits it lost money in the third quarter as travelers booked away. Moreover, it is warning it may suffer a fourth-quarter loss as well. "We're getting hammered," one glum United executive told me this week. "We've had very little success convincing corporate travelers to return." By the way, according to Transportation Department figures released last week, United managed only a 43.7 percent on-time rating in August. That's 25 percentage points below the industry average. A staggering 29 percent of its flights arrived late more than 70 percent of the time; that's about five times the industry average. It also canceled about 8 percent of its scheduled flight in August, more than twice the industry average of 3.4 percent.

UNITED'S PHONY RECOVERY
Tactical Traveler, October 26, 2000 -- The same security analysts and media types who sheepishly accepted United's initial denials about summer service problems are now mindlessly bleating about the airline's quick recovery. Don't believe it. The media and the analysts clearly aren't flying United. If they were, they'd realize that United is still running about four of ten flights late, canceling a disproportionately high percentage of flights and operating dirty planes that are, more often than not, nearly empty. Passenger loads on some routes are so light that there aren't even enough Mileage Plus Premier members on hand to upgrade to first class. And speaking of United's frequent-flyer program, the airline has been forced to lower its requirements for 2001 elite status. Premier status for 2001 is available for 21,000 miles or 27 segments (instead of 25,000 miles or 30 segments); Premier Executive status for 42,000 miles or 54 segments (instead of 50,000 miles or 60 segments); and 1K Status for 84,000 miles or 90 segments (instead of 100,000 miles or 100 segments). One other note: Some disaffected Premier Executive and 1K members have called the Mileage Plus service center demanding their 2000 status level be automatically extended through 2001 as compensation for a particularly horrendous summer travel experience. In most cases, United has granted the request.

UNITED HEADS BACK INTO THE TANK
Tactical Traveler, November 16, 2000 -- United Airlines was making minimal progress restoring normal service after its unprecedented spring and summer meltdown, but ongoing contract disputes with mechanics and flight attendants are sending the airline's performance back into the tank. United has canceled upwards of 100 flights a day in recent weeks. That's about four percent of its daily schedule, almost twice the rate of other major airlines and six times the cancellation rate at Southwest Airlines. Coupled with the airline's dreary on-time rating--at 71.6 percent in September, United was last in the nation for the sixth consecutive month--the cancellations and labor unrest raise the specter of a dreadful holiday period for the nation's largest and least-reliable carrier. By the way, customers continue to book away from United in reaction to the airline's problems. United's North American traffic in October tumbled 6 percent, the fourth consecutive monthly decline.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
The Brancatelli File, November 30, 2000 -- United's decision to raise business fares as much as $100 each way just before Thanksgiving proves exactly how cruel, calculating and utterly incompetent the airline's management really is. To raise fares the equivalent of about 10 percent while you are running the worst airline in the country is cruel. To raise fares while business travelers' attention is diverted by the holidays and the Presidential election is calculating. To impose a record-breaking fare increase after your domestic traffic has plummeted during each of the last four months is simply incompetent. We already know that no one at the top levels of United's management knows how to run an airline. It appears none of them knows how to run a business, either.

WILL THE UNITED-US AIRWAYS MERGER GET THE NOD?
Tactical Traveler, December 20, 2000 -- It's been seven months since United first announced it would try to gobble up US Airways, but the Department of Justice may not make a decision before the end of the Clinton Administration. Supposedly informed industry insiders had been blithely predicting that the merger would be approved before Christmas. Now, they admit, Clinton's Justice Department may not rule at all. "If that's the case," one merger supporter admits, "we could be well into spring before we get an okay. Bush's appointees won't even be in place at Justice before then." Also standing in the way of the merger: The European Community. Their legal eagles had set a December 21 deadline for concluding a preliminary review, but that date has slid until at least January 12. Any delay is good news for business travelers, who are almost unanimously opposed to any airline mergers. "I don't necessarily think United-US Airways is a slam-dunk approval," one airline executive told me last week. "The Justice Department and the EC have both been told that United's competitors would react by merging, too. If you ask me, neither agency seems eager to set such a dramatic consolidation into motion."

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

joe JOE BRANCATELLI

ABOUT THIS COLUMN
Exasperated by United's miserable performance in the spring and early summer of 2000, many business travelers finally began booking away and the airline's traffic crated by the end of summer. Meanwhile, government figures, which take a few months to compile, were dribbling out in October and showed exactly how badly United ran during the summer. Worse, United was continuing to perform poorly, both operationally and financially, throughout the fall. Not that any of the "experts" noticed. The security analysts and dispensers of conventional wisdom couldn't wait to declare United cured. As I said in a Tactical Traveler item posted on October 26, however, the only way they could spew that disinformation was if they hadn't flown United. It's one of the weirdly interesting sidelights of this affair: The experts were constantly and repeatedly wrong. Until the day United Airlines announced its 3Q loss, for example, all the security analysts had continued to predict a profit. They kept blindly insisting United's traffic was rebounding and they were shocked every month when it declined. They kept assuring the world that the merger would be approved despite the cautionary warnings coming from Washington. Just like United management, they saw no evil, heard no evil and predicted no evil. And when United's management imposed a record-breaking price increase just before the Thanksgiving holiday, the analysts cheered again. -- J.B.

Copyright 1999 - 2004 by Joe Brancatelli.

JoeSentMe is Copyright 2004 by Joe Brancatelli.