Columbia, South Carolina Couldn’t Understand How They Got That United Flight. Now They Know.

Now that Jeff Smisek has been removed as United’s CEO ostensibly over his willingness to give special favors to the Chairman of the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey which oversees United’s hub at Newark — a special “chairman’s flight” from Newark to Columbia, South Carolina to take him to his weekend place on Thursday evening and back Monday morning — Columbia airport’s executive director is talking.

We knew already that Columbia airport’s executives met with United in January 2012 for a routine check-in visit, not one where they expected to walk away with air service.

Now we know more about that meeting, and their reaction to the Newark service they got. Columbia airport’s director intended to talk up the airport’s Chicago service,

But during the meeting – out of the blue and to Dan Mann’s surprise – the United schedulers offered an unlikely new route to Newark, N.J., their lucrative hub. The officials said they had an “aircraft utilization” need – meaning they had an aircraft that was being underused and they wanted to add a Thursday night flight from New Jersey to Columbia and Monday morning flight from Columbia to New Jersey.

…We worried about it not getting the ridership it needed to be sustained,” he said. The airline’s response “was nonchalant,” Mann said. “They’d say ‘We would like to have more riders, but it’s aircraft utilization.”

The twice a week route seemed strange to the airport’s director, “Usually only low-cost carriers will do that, for vacation destinations like Vegas”

He reports being questioned by federal authorities (“They asked what we knew and when we knew it”) but had no idea the purpose of the flight. Now he does.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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