Further Details On United’s Mysterious Newark To Columbia Flight

Filed Under: Media, United

In late February I wrote about the interesting case of United operating a once weekly flight between Newark, New Jersey, and Columbia, South Carolina. The route operated for about 18 months, and by insiders was referred to as the “chairman’s flight.”

That’s because the chairman of the New York and New Jersey Port Authority, at the time, spent his weekends in South Carolina. So while the route was suspicious to begin with, what made it even more suspicious was that United ended the flight three days after the Port Authority chairman resigned.

Investigators subpoenaed the Port Authority and United regarding the situation, though we haven’t heard much about it since. Well, Bloomberg published a follow up to the story today, entitled “The Dinner Proposal That Led United Into Corruption Probe.”

Per the article:

United Airlines Inc. was seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in public investment for the airport in Newark when its chief executive dined with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s top Port Authority official in September 2011.

Jeffery Smisek, United’s chief executive officer, wanted funding for several projects, including an estimated $600 million extension of the PATH train from downtown Newark to the airport, as the airline worked through its merger with Continental Airlines.

Halfway through dinner at Novita, an Italian restaurant in Manhattan, Port Authority Chairman David Samson surprised the group with a request of his own. He complained that he and his wife had grown weary of the trip to their weekend home in Aiken, South Carolina, because the best flight out of Newark was to Charlotte, North Carolina, 150 miles away. Until 2009, Continental had run direct service from Newark to Columbia, South Carolina, 100 miles closer.

In a tone described by one observer as “playful, but not joking,” Samson asked: Could United revive that route? An awkward silence fell over the table.

Check out the full article.


  1. Lucky, your ability to find just the right RH graphic whenever you want it is… remarkable.

  2. Why didn’t he just ask for service to Augusta, Georgia? It’s about 30 minutes closer still to Aiken. (In any event, there’s seasonal service from Augusta to LGA on both Delta and US Airways.)

    What an idiot.

  3. From the article it sounds like he was the one who pressured United into re-starting the route.

  4. Another reason why the US airlines’ complaint about Open Skies is a joke: “At the board meeting on Dec. 8, the Port Authority approved United’s new hangar and pledged $10 million toward the $35 million facility.”

  5. As I said when this was first posted…who the hell has a weekend home in Aiken, SC? Charleston? Sure. Hilton Head? Ok. But Aiken?

  6. I checked the average load factor for 2013 and this UA flight operated from EWR to CAE 38 times in 2013 with an average load factor of 29.84%. Surprised no one in the media bothered checking the load factor to see if this could have been a viable route, which obviously it wasn’t. (Source – DOT T-100 data)

  7. Correction, this was the load factor during 2012. During 2013, it operated 97 times with a load factor of 59.95%, still dismal.

  8. @Andrew – Aiken, SC is not that bad of a place. In fact prior to the Civil War many New York families summered in Aiken because there was not the threat of tropical diseases that could affect the coastal cities. Aiken is really a nice little town.. though maybe I’m biased as a graduate of Aiken High School and the University of South Carolina Aiken. =)

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