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United Airlines Ads Return to Airwaves


At a time when many Americans are still nervous about flying because of last month's terrorist attacks, few airlines in the United States have spent money on advertising. This week, the nation's number-two carrier, United, returned to the airwaves.

Its television ads, using employees to talk about their love of flying, come at a time when the head of the company is expressing doubts about United's future.

United was one of the two airlines whose jets were hijacked and flown into buildings on September 11. One United plane hit one of the World Trade Center towers in New York, and another crashed in Pennsylvania, as passengers apparently tried to overpower their hijackers.

In its first television advertisements since the hijackings, United's own workers talk about their love of air travel and their jobs, and how the terrorist attacks haven't changed that.

It is important that we maintain our passions for life, our passions for living.

We took a blow, but we are going to get up. We might have gotten knocked to our knees, even, but we are going to get up and stand up and press on.

We have grown as a company, we have grown closer.

Some advertising industry analysts have been quoted in news reports saying United's ad campaign only reminds the public of a tragedy involving airliners, while others say it would be pointless to pretend the hijackings did not happen.

Like many airlines, United could use a lot more passengers these days. Even after cutting its schedule by 20 percent a few weeks ago, its planes are flying only about 60 percent full.

United recently announced plans to overhaul its schedule again, cutting back on flights before 7:00 a.m. and after 7:00 p.m. The carrier says the changes will affect about five million people who have already bought tickets for November and December.

The head of United Airlines, James Goodwin, recently expressed doubts about how much longer United can remain in business. He says the airline has been "hemorrhaging cash" and might have to shut down sometime next year unless it starts making money.

The airline's unions are not convinced the problem is that serious. Some feel the company is trying to scare its unions into renegotiating expensive contracts with the company.

Herb Hunter is a union leader for the Air Line Pilots Association. He said, "I am confused by the timing of the letter. Is this 'Labor Relations 101?' I do not know. It certainly is using a fear factor, which surprises me."

United's flight attendants' union says if the company is really losing a lot of money, it is largely because of Mr. Goodwin's leadership and he should step aside.

But nearly all airlines have been losing money this year because of the economic slowdown, and those losses have accelerated since the September 11 attacks. The federal government has approved a $15 billion bailout package for the airlines, but many carriers say their shares will not make up for this year's losses.

Dallas-based discount airline Southwest is almost alone among the major airlines in reporting a profit this year, although it, too says it is carrying fewer passengers since the attacks.

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