Monday, July 16, 2007

United Airlines' New Challenges

A few weeks ago, before vacation, The Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled, "United Struggles to Navigate New Course."

What came to mind as I read the piece was a recent CNBC guest hosting stint by Bob Crandall, former AMR Chairman, and one of the best airline CEOs to come down the pike in ages. Crandall reiterated that the entire industry is plagued and crippled by the ongoing rift between labor, their unions, and management. You can't have a successful company when employees and management are basically in an ongoing war.

Thus, reading this passage from the Journal article meant a lot,

"Capt. Mark Bathurst, chairman of the pilots union and a UAL director, took the management team to task a month ago for not transforming the airline into a top performer,"

and then Bathurst is quoted as saying,

"Alone among the traditional carriers, United seemingly is without a vision for the future."

The article further notes employee morale problems over cuts and givebacks by labor, while management received largish equity positions as UAL exited bankruptcy recently.

Overall, the article suggested that UAL didn't really fix itself in Chapter 11, and that its woes reflect that- insufficient capital, labor-management strife, high costs, and accounting issues, related to the bankruptcy, that apparently just give institutional investors pause.

Overall, the story adds to my perception that the airline sector continues to labor under shared liabilities- a poorly-managed and funded air traffic control authority, labor union discontent, cost problems, and capacity issues. It's too easy for new entrants in this sector, yet too hard for them to actually fly once they get in.

My guess is, UAL was rushed out of Chapter 11 far too early, and is probably destined for rougher skies in the near future.

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