United, Smisek, and New Jersey: It’s Not the Crime, It’s the Coverup?

Most readers are familiar with the Newark – Columbia, South Carolina flight that United operated at the behest of the Chairman of the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey (which oversees United’s hub at Newark). It was a money-loser that Governor Christie’s appointee David Samson, intimately tied to ‘Bridgegate’, asked for so he could more conveniently commute to and from his weekend home — and that United killed days after Samson’s resignation.

United CEO Jeff Smisek — himself a lawyer who should have known to alert the FBI rather than accommodating such requests — resigned over that and related matters.

United sought lower fees in a new lease for their Newark hub.

And they offered flights to Atlantic City valued by the Governor as they sought public funding of enhanced transportation to Newark. (United’s cancellation of service there should have triggered certain subsidy repayments, which New Jersey simply let slide.)

All innocent coincidences and business as usual?

There’s a reason they say it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup.

It turns out that the Port Authority redacted meetings of its executives with United CEO Jeff Smisek and others from public calendars going back to 2013.

Smisek, Samson, Baroni, Fox, and several United executives dined together in September, 2011 [where the request for the Columbia flight was made]. A January 2013 meeting with Smisek and two meetings with Fox in the spring of 2013 were also redacted from Baroni’s calendar in the early release.

…The other meetings were removed long before federal prosecutors began subpoenaing records of the so-called “chairman’s flight,” to Columbia, S.C., near Samson’s weekend home in Aiken, S.C. Two current or former federal prosecutors, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to discuss this case, said if the entries were deliberately hidden, “it’s evidence of guilt.”

…At the time of the document request, Samson, the focus of the United inquiry, was still Chair of the Port Authority.

..Several key meetings were also missing from Samson’s public calendars, including the Italian dinner with Jeff Smisek and the two United Airlines executives who resigned as a result of the investigations. A meeting between Samson, Smisek and Christie in August 2013 is also missing from Samson’s calendar.

…But the page with the calendar entry for the Novita dinner is simply blank, and the other meetings — one with Smisek and two with Fox — appear on Baroni’s schedule as redactions under “exemption one” of the Port Authority freedom of information code, which at the time included covered court-ordered non-disclosures, invasions of privacy, and material protected because it’s under investigation.

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. Slimy critters the lot. But personally, I’d wine and dine any of them if it meant more direct flights out of my hometown’s ex-TWA-hub! 😀

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