Back in February American Airilines went apoplectic over a deal to disproportionately increase United’s gate count at Chicago O’Hare. They said they would not sign a new lease under those conditions.
After a couple of weeks they made peace with the city with an arrangement over 3 L concourse common use gates.
The Chicago Deputy Mayor charged with handling O’Hare expansion has now been… hired by United. Robert Rivkin was named United’s Senior Vice President and General Counsel.
Rivkin is the former Delta Airlines executive who served as general counsel to former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s closest friends in politics.
Last year, Rivkin played a pivotal role in negotiating airline use and lease agreements that laid the groundwork for Emanuel’s $8.7 billion O’Hare expansion plan.
He sided with hometown United, O’Hare’s flagship carrier, in a gate dispute with American that nearly derailed or delayed the project.
United Airlines Concourse at Chicago O’Hare
United would be wise to carefully consider hiring politicians who are perceived to have done them favors, especially ones coming out of Chicago politics. Rivkin worked under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s former Chief of Staff. United’s head of communications is Josh Earnest, President Obama’s former Press Secretary.
Their last CEO had to be pushed out after a federal investigation uncovered what amounted to kickbacks for a government official. Jeff Smisek was forced to leave after it was revealed he participated in discussions about providing a scheduled flight at the request of the Chairman of the Port Authority of New York New Jersey in exchange for their willingness to place items favorable to United at Newark on the Port Authority agenda.
Smisek had himself been General Counsel of Continental Airlines prior to the carrier’s having taken over United.
United lobbies aggressively for political favors such a preventing flights longer than 1250 miles from being approved to fly from Washington National, getting the government to protect its Washington Dulles hub from competition, and to keep out competition from foreign airlines like Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar. Ironically they argue those airlines are too closely in bed with their governments.