Yesterday, Jeff Smisek resigned from his position as CEO of United Airlines because he basically kept alive an unprofitable airline route, from Newark to South Carolina, in hopes that a top Port Authority executive—and Chris Christie appointee—would give him a break on the rent at Newark Airport. In other words, Bridgegate forever!!!
How did NJ Governor Chris Christie's apparent (he's denied it, but COME ON) revenge plot on the town of Fort Lee, NJ take down the CEO of one of the biggest companies in the world? Well, it goes something like this:
- Back in September 2013, Christie's patronage hire at the Port Authority (Christie and NY Governor Cuomo "share" control of the agency) and Christie's own Deputy Chief of Staff conspired to close lanes from Fort Lee to the George Washington Bridge, all because Fort Lee's Democratic mayor wouldn't support Christie, a Republican, for re-election.
- An investigation into the matter found that Christie's top official at the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, knew about the lane closings and was scrambling when Cuomo's top official, Patrick Foye, was furious about the incident.
- Port Authority Chairman David Samson, another Christie crony, also said that Foye was "stirring up trouble." Samson resigns in March 2014, even though he was never interviewed by Christie's own legal team investigating Bridgegate.
- In February of 2015, the U.S. Attorney's office subpoenas Samson's personal travel records. Well, the U.S. Attorney's office was investigating Samson anyway for Bridgegate! From the Bergen Record:
The subpoena issued last month appears to be part of a probe into a flight route initiated by United while Samson was chairman of the transportation agency that operates the region’s airports. The route provided non-stop service between Newark and Columbia Metropolitan Airport in South Carolina — about 50 miles from a home where Samson often spent weekends with his wife. United halted the non-stop route on April 1 of last year, just three days after Samson resigned under a cloud.
Samson referred to the twice-a-week route — with a flight leaving Newark on Thursday evenings and another returning on Monday mornings — as “the chairman’s flight,” one source said. Federal aviation records show that during the 19 months United offered the non-stop service, the 50-seat planes that flew the route were, on average, only about half full.
United Airlines was in regular negotiations with the Port Authority and the Christie administration during Samson’s tenure over issues that included expansion of the airline’s service to Atlantic City and the extension of the PATH train to Newark Liberty.
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.
In other words, as the NY Times puts it, "The United States attorney for New Jersey has been investigating whether United, the nation’s third-largest airline, agreed to reinstate money-losing flights to the airport nearest the weekend home of the authority’s chairman, David Samson, in return for improvements the airline wanted at Newark Liberty International Airport, where it is the biggest carrier."
Kate Hanni, founder of California-based fliersrights.org, told the Star-Ledger earlier this year, "No airline would continue a flight that was regularly half full, unless it was receiving government subsidies. If not subsidized, then United was operating a flight that was losing money, again airlines don't continue flights that are burning a hole in their pocket unless they have someone important of great influence on board."
The NY Times' Jim Dwyer has a weary/bemused column about all this, in which he writes: "Last year, at news conferences blaming other people for the traffic jam scandal, Mr. Christie referred to him reverentially as 'General Samson,' because Mr. Samson was a former attorney general of New Jersey. That is not the same kind of general as Dwight D. Eisenhower, but Mr. Samson apparently liked having people call him general."