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CONTENTS OF THE UNFRIENDLY SKIES
SHOCKING AND SURPRISING: GOOD NEWS ABOUT BUSINESS TRAVEL
   The Brancatelli File, August 12, 1999 -- United is operating poorly, but its traffic is growing and it is highly profitable. And it makes two moves that actually count as good news for travelers: It lifts the expiration date on Mileage Plus miles and it introduces Economy Plus, a cabin-within-coach that offers extra seat room.

THE BLAME GAME: MEANINGLESS PROMISES, EGREGIOUS EXCUSES
   The Brancatelli File, December 16, 1999 -- For more than a year, United has been languishing at or near the bottom of the Transportation Department rankings for on-time flights and baggage handling. Which is interesting, since United has been installing hateful carry-on "templates" at security checkpoints and claiming they improve operational efficiency.

LA DOLCE VITA
   The Brancatelli File, June 1, 2000 -- United decides it will buy US Airways in a merger then valued at $11 billion. I'm in Rome when the announcement comes and I can't understand the rationale. So I offer a simple analysis: "Why should any intelligent nation allow its largest airline to buy its sixth-largest carrier? One reason will do. Any reason."

THE SPRING AND SUMMER OF UNITED'S DISCONTENT
   The Tactical Traveler, May-August, 2000 -- The news of a bad week in May for United flight operations is our first clue that the airline is about to collapse under the strain of bad management and labor unrest. As subsequent Tactical Traveler items reveal, United is so focused on the proposed US Airways merger that it does nothing to address the day-by-day operational meltdown.

WILL YOU TAKE UNITED'S BRIBE?
   The Brancatelli File, August 24, 2000 -- Shockingly, United is operating three of four flights late in some weeks during the summer of 2000. Management is also canceling hundreds of flights every day. Rather than try to fix the meltdown, United offers flyers a mileage bribe to look the other way. And it continues to divert management "talent" to preparations for the US Airways merger.

SENDING UNITED A MESSAGE
   The Brancatelli File, September 14, 2000 -- United's agreement with its pilots has somehow convinced the mainstream media that all is well at United again. Wrong. The story actually starts now, when business travelers are having their say. And you're talking with your feet and your wallet: You've rejected United's mileage bribe and you're booking away in droves. Besides, United's operations continue to crumble, so there's not much of an airline to fly.

UNITED INHERITS THE WIND
   The Tactical Traveler, October-December, 2000 -- This collection of items from the fall of 2000 tracks United's ongoing operational woes, its resulting financial collapse, management's continued detachment from day-to-day reality--and the quixotic quest to consummate the US Airways merger. FYI: In the midst of this corporate collapse, United imposes a record-breaking fare increase.

MAKING TERMS FOR A UNITED-US AIRWAYS MERGER
   The Brancatelli File, January 4, 2001 -- As the United-US Airways merger saga dragged into its second year, the anti-merger forces were clearly gaining the upper hand. At the metaphorical departure gate of 2001, I offered some thoughts on how a merger might get done. Little did I know that a desperate United was cooking up a blockbuster scenario in a last-ditch effort to get its way.

NO. NO. NO. NO. NO.
   The Brancatelli File, January 11, 2001 -- A stunning proposal: United and American want to control half the nation's skies. American will scoop up the once-again-bankrupt TWA and United and American will carve up the carcass of US Airways, even going so far as to share operations of the US Airways Shuttle. It was easy to say "No." And say it loud and often.

BLUEPRINT FOR OLIGARCHY
   The Tactical Traveler, January-June, 2001 -- A collection of items in the winter and spring of 2001 explains how United and American conspired to restrict competition and how the woebegone United-US Airways merger was beginning to unravel in the face of continued and implacable regulatory opposition. By the way, United continued to gush cash and run badly.

CHUTZPAH
   The Brancatelli File, May 31, 2001 -- As the United-US Airways merger was sinking in the East, United management was losing control of operations in the Midwest. Rather than drop routes it admitted were unprofitable, management chooses to cram a flotilla of regional jets into its Chicago/O'Hare hub. That leads to more operational woes, more passenger defections--and more red ink. And United's leaders find a new scapegoat for it all.

THE END OF THE BEGINNING
   The Brancatelli File, July 5, 2001 -- The United-US Airways merger nightmare ends in acrimony, ugliness and financial disaster. United is destroyed creatively, bankrupt managerially, gushing red ink and losing passengers at an alarming rate. And we didn't know it in July, of course, but 9/11 is just two months away.

FEASTING ON UNITED'S CARCASS
   The Tactical Traveler, July-August, 2001 -- After the merger tanked, the true nature of United's decline was revealed. The revived Frontier, celebrating its seventh anniversary the same month that the merger died, nips at United's heels in Denver. A year's worth of passenger and profit numbers shows United's deterioration. And just before 9/11, a lame fare promotion from United management.

The source material originally ran at biztravel.com from 1999 to 2001. The annotation originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com in December, 2002.

joe JOE BRANCATELLI

ABOUT THIS REPORT
On August 24, 2000, in the midst of United's nightmarish operational meltdown, I called the carrier a "rotting hulk of an airline." United's bankruptcy-court filing on December 9, 2002, has proven the accuracy of my rhetorical flourish from two years earlier. But any business traveler who lived through the decline of United could see the disaster coming. So could anyone who looked at the financial and operational facts rather than listened to the bleatings of United's unimaginative, stolid--and dare I say stupid--management. As you can read in this selection of Brancatelli Files and Tactical Traveler news items, United Airlines was headed for disaster even at its comparative zenith: The summer of 1999, when traffic and fares were rising, profits were soaring and the airline introduced an interesting new product called "United Plus." I do not suggest that this annotated collection of nine contemporaneous Brancatelli File columns and 21 news items is comprehensive. They do not discuss Avolar, the ill-timed, harebrained scheme to launch a private-jet service that diverted management time and more than $100 million in cash. They don't fully explore the nature of United's operational collapse, when many thousands of flights were canceled and (during some particularly bad weeks) three of every four United flights ran late. They do not completely explain the murky motives and odd machinations of United management, which lied, denied and eventually crumbled in the face of the challenges. Major developments--the collapse of the United Shuttle, the shifting competitive balance, the internecine labor moves and the first signs of fare resistance from exasperated business travelers--are merely mentioned, not fully explored. And, sadly, the chaotic and painful mistreatment that travelers experienced at the hands of United in this period cannot be fully recreated in these dark, post-9/11 days. But what this special report does show is that United did this to itself. It is bankrupt on the merits, a victim of its own hubris. As always, I invite your comments, insight and dissent.
    -- Joe Brancatelli

Copyright 1999 - 2004 by Joe Brancatelli.

JoeSentMe is Copyright 2004 by Joe Brancatelli.