Federal Investigation: United Airlines Offering Flights in Exchange for Political Favors?

Bryan S. shared this piece about federal prosecutors investigating United Airlines operating twice-weekly Newark – Columbia, South Carolina service for the possible private benefit of the David Samson, who served as Chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey between 2011 and 2014.

The United flight, convenient to Samson’s weekend home, offered service departing Thursday evening and returned to Newark Monday morning. Samson is said to have referred to this service as “the Chairman’s flight.” It was a money loser. The service was cancelled three days after Samson stepped down from the Port Authority.

Federal prosecutors have demanded that the Port Authority turn over records related to the personal travel of the agency’s former chairman, David Samson, as well as his relationship with Newark Liberty International Airport’s largest carrier, United Airlines, according to multiple sources, a development that opens yet another line of inquiry in what has become a sprawling criminal investigation.

…Besides Samson’s personal travel records, the subpoena also demands information about votes Samson took while chairman and any communications he had with United and its former lobbyist, Jamie Fox, a close friend of Samson’s who has since become Governor Christie’s transportation commissioner.

United declined to comment beyond issuing a statement that it, too, had received a subpoena.

Samson, of course, was caught up in the New Jersey toll lane closure scandal. And he’s been accused of improperly participating in the awarding of contracts to clients of his law firm.

And United previously offered money-losing service between Atlantic City and Chicago and Houston in a purported quid pro quo for Governor Christie’s support of taxpayer funds for transportation to and from United’s Newark hub.

There are only allegations and an investigation at this point, but they seemed worth noting lest anyone think that Delta had a lock on crony capitalism in US aviation.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary: can’t it be said that a range of DCA flights, especially some of those tiny US Air regional planes, are congressional district direct flights?

  2. I don’t know, I’d love to hear which ones specifically you think are, here there are investigations of quid pro quo and indeed the flight was timed to accommodate weekend getaways from a specific official whose votes are now being investigated.

  3. At least David Samson didn’t loot and burn businesses locally and near where I grew up. Any word from Eric ‘Homey D Clown’ Holder and the DOJ on when Al Sharpen will be indicted and taken to trial for tax evasion?

  4. Another Chris Christie crony associated with shady behavior? They say a key skill of an executive is to surround themselves with really smart people. It would seem Chris Christie is not a good executive given his track record.

  5. 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.

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