Jeff Smisek, the former chairman, president and CEO of United Airlines who abruptly resigned in September, made a return of sorts today in the federal antitrust lawsuit the US Department of Justice filed against United. DOJ is quoting Smisek, both in the lawsuit and in comments to the media, to help buttress its case that United is “unlawfully seeking to maintain a monopoly” at EWR.
The irony here is rich. Smisek, after all, was forced out amid a DOJ investigation into the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Federal lawyers are, among other things, probing whether United improperly operated low load factor flights from EWR to Columbia, South Carolina, near a vacation home owned by former PANYNJ chairman David Samson, presumably to curry favor with Samson and get wanted projects at EWR approved.
Now the feds are using a Smisek quote to, in their estimation, show that United is going back on its promise—made when DOJ approved the United-Continental merger in 2010—to allow fair competition at EWR.
Of course, Smisek is being used as an unwitting witness against United. And the transaction DOJ is trying to prevent—United acquiring 12 EWR slot pairs from Delta Air Lines—was negotiated when Smisek was still in charge of United. So DOJ is in effect accusing Smisek of duplicity: saying one thing to get DOJ to clear United-Continental and then attempting to cut deals to reverse the sentiment of his statement.