United closes the book on Chapter 11

United Airlines, the nation's number-two carrier, flies out of bankruptcy today and leaves behind more than three years of bankruptcy protection. The immediate effect on travelers, however, is essentially nothing. The airline has been flying uninterupted since it filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2002. That early filing, while leading to a long (1,150 days) and painful (58,000 lost jobs) span for the airline, has at least put it ahead of competitors like Delta and Northwest, both of which waited until late 2005 to file.

United now targets the business customer and the international traveler and, for the most part, is steering away from a no-win domestic battle with low-cost competitors. Has United really changed enough to succeed, though? I'm still skeptical. So, too, is columnist Joe Brancatelli, who writes, "There is a plethora of financial and operational reasons why [United Airlines]... will soon enough be back in Chapter 11 or desperately seeking a merger to keep itself afloat."

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Ready or not, though, a "new" United has arrived. Now it just remains to be seen what the airline makes of its second chance.

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