United Airlines replaces CEO: The ends don’t justify the means

Courtesy Getty Images

Courtesy Getty Images

United Airlines has appointed Mr Oscar Munoz as president and chief executive with immediate effect after Mr Jeff Smisek stepped down in the midst of investigation by the United States attorney in New Jersey into possible corruption by the airline to improperly influence senior officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Mr Smisek had been UA’s CEO since it merged with Continental Airlines in 2010.

There was already a groundswell demanding Mr Smisek’s resignation for different reasons. A petition filed by “Our UnitedRetired” on behalf of “dedicated active employees and retirees of United Airlines” blamed Mr Smisek for a slew of problems that include job outsourcing, cutting costs at the expense of services and damaging retirees. The beef was that Mr Smisek had not kept his promise that the merger with Continental would have no “significant effect on employment on frontline jobs.”

According to Congressional records, Mr Smisek had testified that “it (the merger) will provide them (workers) with good jobs – careers, and not just jobs; and retirements, secure retirements and not just hope. It will provide us with the synergies that will permit us to continue to invest in our employees. And I have made it very clear that the wealth creation of this merger, that I intend to share that with all work groups, whether they are unionized or not.”

The fire of discontent was further fanned by the latest news that the jobs of workers at 28 airports represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District Lodge 141 could soon be outsourced in cost-cutting measures.

Blame it on expedience or the lack of foresight, but Mr Smisek`s political promise was perhaps a smack of the Machiavellian principle of the ends justifying the means. Five years might have given him enough time to scoot, but that did not happen.

Yet it was not that that finally did him in, but an unanticipated storm that started brewing some two years ago at an otherwise normal business dinner. Allegedly, according to a New York Times story and the Bloomberg account of what transpired over dinner at an Italian restaurant in Manhattan, Mr Smisek was under pressure to find savings from the Continental merger and had sought breaks in the lease payments to the Port Authority, and chairman of the Port Authority David Samson who owned a property in Aiken where he spent his weekends mentioned a 150-mile drive from Charlotte, NC, the nearest city with direct service from Newark. Mr Samson asked if a direct service to Columbia, 100 miles nearer, could be instituted. Within a year, United was flying a mostly empty plane twice a week – Mondays and Thursdays – between Newark and Columbia. That flight was often referred to, in Mr Samson`s own words, “the Chairman`s flight.”

Now we might have done injustice quoting Machiavelli. That could not be the ends justifying the means.


About Dingzi
Writer by passion, with professional expertise in aviation, customer service and creative writing. Aviation veteran, author, editor and management consultant. Besides commentary on business issues and life-interest topics, travel stories and book reviews, genres include fiction, poetry and plays. Nature lover who abhors cruelty of any form to animals, and a tireless traveler. Above all, a dreamer.

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