Glenn Tilton is someone oracular among airline chiefs. For a couple of years now, the United Airlines chief executive and board chairman has been repeating the same mantra: consolidate, consolidate, and consolidate. But in recent days, after Continental Airlines' surprise declaration of independence the other day, Tilton changed his tune, or his chant, a little bit. Yes, he said, we need consolidation, but a sphinx-like Tilton added in his message to United employees: “we also continue to believe that new business models are required to respond to the challenging market environment.” Does this presage something other than outright merger? A new alliance or an alliance within Star?
Tilton may have no choice but to alter his tune: the airline lost more than a half billion dollars in the first quarter, and its stock is down by almost 60% since January. Tilton’s pilots have also laid down the line, saying Tuesday that perhaps he could focus on improving his airline before merging with another. “United should take a page from Continental, and turn its attention inward. United is the only carrier in the industry with no aircraft on order or optioned. That is not a long-term plan for survival. While United’s labor costs are among the lowest in the industry, its other costs excluding fuel and labor are among the highest, year over year,” UAL captain Steve Wallach said.