flickr photo by Caleb's PhotographyIt's been posted elsewhere already, but in case you haven't heard, Continental CEO Jeff Smisek got in a little hot water after referring to US Airways, in decidedly un-diplomatic language, as an 'ugly girl.' “I recognized that United was the best partner for Continental, and I didn’t want to marry the ugly girl; I wanted to marry the pretty one,” he said.
A bad choice of words, no doubt. Smisek evidently apologized to US Airways CEO Doug Parker, who called the words "chauvinistic and offensive." "Jeff sent me an apology, stating that he “got carried away in the moment,” “really felt badly” and “had no good excuse.” I believe Jeff was sincere in his apology, have accepted it on behalf of all of us and am ready to move past it," Parker wrote in a letter to US Airways employees (you can read the whole thing at the end of the post).
Parker also defends US Airways' performance in the letter, pointing out that his airline's profit margins, on-time performance, and stock performance were all better than Continental's recently. But why did United, which had recently considered a merger with US Airways, ultimately choose Continental instead? Why did US Airways get dumped? Two things to keep in mind, according to Parker:
- United chose Continental because it has "dominant positions in major business markets like Newark and Houston that allow them to collect even higher revenues than we can with our network," which is presumably more leisure-based.
- Even if US Airways did get dumped, it doesn't mean that it isn't a "valuable standalone company" with "strong" prospects.
May 4, 2010
A number of you have contacted me asking about Continental CEO Jeff Smisek’s “ugly girl” comment yesterday. In case you haven’t seen it, when announcing their plans to merge with United Airlines yesterday, Mr. Smisek said, “I didn’t want him (United CEO Glenn Tilton) to marry the ugly girl. I wanted him to marry the pretty one.” The ugly girl was a clear reference to US Airways. Like me, many of you found his comment both chauvinistic and offensive to the hard-working people of US Airways.
First, you should know that Jeff sent me an apology, stating that he “got carried away in the moment,” “really felt badly” and “had no good excuse.” I believe Jeff was sincere in his apology, have accepted it on behalf of all of us and am ready to move past it.
Having said that, the emails I’ve received from many of you suggest this comment hit a nerve so I wanted to give you my views. As one of you simply put it, “Why are we the ugly girl?” The answer, of course, is we are not and there’s no better evidence of that than our recent performance.
In fact, we are performing better than Continental on almost all of the important metrics of our business. Financially, we each reported first quarter financial results in the past two weeks, and while we both lost money, we both lost much less than last year. However, US Airways’ rate of improvement was much better than Continental’s driven by both higher revenue growth and better cost control. On an absolute basis, our profit margins are now higher than Continental’s.
Operationally, we’re performing much better than Continental in the primary customer service metric of on-time performance. US Airways jets arrived on-time more often than Continental’s during the first quarter 2010, and we also outperformed them in on-time during all of 2009 and 2008. We are also now neck and neck with Continental in areas like baggage and complaints.
This is all being noticed by the outside world, as US Airways stock price is up 42 percent so far this year, while Continental’s is up 15 percent, even after announcing their merger.
Bottom line, I think both of our airlines are doing a great job in a challenging business – but if I were them I wouldn’t be pointing fingers.
So why did United choose to merge with Continental rather than US if we’re performing better financially and operationally than they are today? I think the answer is straightforward and one we’ve discussed many times – while we have a strong route network centered around PHL, CLT, PHX, DCA and the Shuttle, Continental has dominant positions in major business markets like Newark and Houston that allow them to collect even higher revenues than we can with our network. United preferred that network to ours and while we may disagree with that decision, it was United’s to make and we need to respect it and move on.
None of this means we don’t have a valuable standalone company. To the contrary, we’re producing better standalone results than our peers like Continental. We announced last week that we expect to report a profit in the current quarter of this year, which is further evidence of our standalone value. As consolidation makes our industry less fragmented and more efficient, our standalone prospects will only become stronger.
As we move forward, let’s not worry about the words of our competitors – no matter how inappropriate they may be – but rather let’s continue to show the world what we can accomplish by working together and performing our jobs in a professional and focused manner.
Thanks so much for your commitment to US Airways. I’m proud to be a part of your team and am looking forward to aggressively competing against the new United Airlines – and winning — for many years to come.