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Covering the United Airlines scandal

September 10, 2015

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Newark Airport. Courtesy of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

In New Jersey, they call it Boarding Gate. This week, the scandal brought down the CEO and two senior executives at United Airlines, and the story is far from over.

United, based in Chicago, flies to 332 destinations around the world, including 226 in the United States. It has nearly 4,800 daily departures, and it employs more than 84,000 people.

So, the airline industry was startled on Tuesday when United announced its chief executive, Jeff Smisek, was among those stepping down.

Here’s why. The Bergen Record reports that federal prosecutors have been investigating allegations that United offered flights from Newark to Columbia, S.C., to benefit David Samson, the former chairman of the Port of New York and New Jersey.

The Port Authority operates one of United’s biggest hubs, Newark Liberty International Airport.

According to the paper, the flights provided Samson with “more direct travel between Newark and his weekend home in Aiken, S.C., about 50 miles from the airport in Columbia. There were two round trips a week, with a flight to Columbia on Thursday evenings and a flight back to Newark on Monday mornings.”

The flight began when Samson was chairman and stopped three days after his resignation in late March of last year. But, according to the Record, the flights usually operated half full, and ranked in the lowest three percent of all flights in the U.S. in terms of passengers.

But there’s more to the story than just the flights. WNYC public radio reports that the Port Authority voted to spend $10 million on a new hangar at Newark for United, possibly as a quid pro quo for the flights.

Meanwhile, senior United executives donated to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s re-election campaign, and the airport subsequently reached a deal with United to lower flight fees. All this coincided with the traffic management scandal called Bridgegate.

Since United serves so many cities in the U.S., some customers wonder what new CEO Oscar Munoz will do with the airline’s flight schedules, according to USA Today.

For story ideas, see if any United Airlines officials donated to politicians in your area. What’s the relationship between United and your airport? How full are United’s flights from your airport to different destinations? Do any look in danger of being discontinued?


  • Micheline Maynard

    Micheline is a contributing columnist at the Washington Post concentrating on business and culture. She has written about flooding in Detroit, tainted water in Benton Harbor, nationwide shortages of restaurant staff, and vaccine hesitancy.

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