Did United Operate A Flight For The Chairman Of The Port Authority?

Here’s an interesting story from Bloomberg about how a once weekly United flight between Newark and Columbia may have been operated exclusively for the Chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Via Bloomberg:

For 18 months, a 50-seat regional jet left United Airlines’ Newark hub each Thursday night bound for Columbia, S.C. On Monday mornings, United Express flew back to Newark.

Federal prosecutors want to know if United offered the flight because David Samson, then chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, spent weekends in Aiken, S.C., about 50 miles from the Columbia airport. The Port Authority and United have received subpoenas from U.S. investigators examining Samson’s travel and his communications with United, The Record newspaper in New Jersey reported earlier this month. Samson referred to the Columbia route as the “chairman’s flight,” the newspaper reported, citing a source it did not identify.

United ended the flight on April 1, 2014, three days after Samson resigned from the agency amid the political turmoil that followed the release of e-mails showing that aides to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Port Authority officials had orchestrated lane closures on the George Washington Bridge in September 2013, snarling traffic for several days in Fort Lee, N.J.

This would be the first time a flight operated by a 50 seat regional jet with no first class would be considered a “prize.” 😉

It’ll be interesting to see what the investigation finds.

Anyone have an opinion — was the flight operated for the Chairman of the Port Authority, or was it a coincidence?

Filed Under: United
  1. United serves Columbia from it’s other hubs ORD, IAH and IAD so an EWR flight isn’t as fishy as it sounds. Also DL serves CAE from LGA which is also a Port Authority run airport. How much notice does an airline usually give when they terminate a route? I would think it would be a few months at least. Maybe they gave the route a trial for 12 months, found out it wasn’t working and then shut it down after a few more months.

    This all seems logical, but I’m secretly hoping for the juicier version that you told!

  2. If United didn’t want to make it obvious that the flight was being run solely for the convenience of David Samson, they would’ve left it running for longer afterwards. Cutting it almost immediately would seem to imply that United may have been running the flight for Samson’s benefit, but was doing so only under some sort of duress from Samson.

  3. United is a non government business. If they allocate a plane to fly an gov official to weekend retreat, it is their business right? If the gov official accepts this as a “favor” , it is illegal. 50 seater back breaker or first class, still illegal.
    Now, – did he pay for his own ticket from his own packet? I like to know if they can prove that United actually did this flight as a favor to the gov official.

    Personally, I would be ecstatic if someone allocates a Cessna to take me to weekend house and back.

  4. I think the larger question that needs to be asked is, who the *%&# spends their weekends in Aiken, SC? Having said that, sortof weird that he wouldn’t fly into Augusta, which is much closer to Aiken than Columbia, and even has seasonal service on Delta from LGA.

    The timing and frequency of the route, combined with UA cutting it literally three days after he resigned, is definitely fishy.

  5. Yeah, I was laughing at this on twitter a couple of hours ago. The part about only flying the route on Thursday/Sunday is the real killer. Otherwise UACO could probably talk their way out of it.

    I would love to see them show us how full those flights were. 😉

  6. I can’t believe some blogger or FlyerTalker didn’t notice this flight on the schedule while it was running. Once-weekly service with the plane apparently sitting in SC all weekend would just stick out a lot compared to normal flight schedules.

  7. > This would be the first time a flight operated by a 50 seat regional jet with no first class would be considered a “prize.”

    It may not be a prize in terms of comfort, but it is in terms of feeding someone’s ego.

  8. @ Andrew, you get to the heart of the matter! Why Aiken?!? Especially on a reverse route…I’d understand leaving Columbia for EWR on Thursday and returning on Monday. I’m originally from South Carolina, and wouldn’t wish Aiken in the summertime on my worst enemy.

  9. I really thought Gary could write such pieces. I never expected you to write about politics man, you usualy sway away from it. Gary are you there? Why have you not posted this earlier?

  10. EWR to Columbia on Thursday and then back on Sunday makes sense for business travelers who work in NYC during the week. Did the plane really sit all weekend? I would have to think it would fly somewhere else before being repositioned.

  11. I remember reading somewhere (forget where, it was a couple of weeks ago) that Mr. Samson flies to Aiken during the weekend because he has a house there, and Mrs. Samson lives there full-time. And he’s in NY/NJ during the week because his job is there.

  12. I just wonder if United would have voided all of those exchange rate error tickets if David Samson bought them while he was in a position of authority…

  13. This type of stuff happens with all the airlines, but probably less obvious than the UA example. I worked at a major doing the schedules and had to make sure we had enough F seats into certain markets for “influential” customers. Vague, but you know that I mean. Thx!

  14. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics publishes its TranStats T-100 tables for all commercial routes in the US. From that, I looked up the 2013 figures for ExpressJet (which operated the flight) and found that out of the 72 routes from Newark, the Columbia route had the 21st worst load factor, at 71%.

    I mean, they were almost definitely running the flight for Samson, but it wasn’t like he was the only one flying it. The average 34.5 other Columbians (Columbia-ites?) who were taking that flight were probably none too pleased when Samson was shown the door.

  15. Um…. excuse me, Andrew… Aiken has Augusta beat hands down … and if you don’t know why, then you should come for a visit.

  16. This is cute… Jeff S is overly focused on returning shareholder value and dinging his frequent fliers as much as possible and here he is currying favor with government officials.

    I’m sure there’s plenty of email smoking guns over and yield management as they would be screaming at this kind of stupidity. I think if United wants to get into competition with NetJets, they need to get a different operating license to do that.

    Beyond all that the feds should slap united with a sufficient penalty that united shareholders wake up and smell the coffee. If there’s any other smoking guns of corruption further on, people should go to jail. The loss of actual liberty instead of just a speeding ticket economic penalty will make people think twice before they get into these kinds of stupid enterprises. We have the same problem with bankers, other parts of government, defense contractors, and oil and gas. The sooner the feds start to realize they have to start putting people in jail to stop this kind of behavior the better.

  17. Well it looks like the Fed woke up and smelled the coffee and found the smoking guns. It’s all Jeff-ed up over there at the new combined company and now it seems some ex Cons (ex Continentals) will really be excons.

    I think think the short story narrative here is blinded by profits and an unbridled need for more no matter what. After stripping all the benes out of Mileage Plus and bleeding their best flyers, the US Gov must have looked like low hanging fruit. For the company Board to pull the plug on the guy that drove the merger and big profits means Jeff’s done here in a few days. The next shoe should drop soon…

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