The fact that Continental Airlines once had a cozy relationship with the City of Houston doesn’t mean that United Airlines should expect the same treatment.
Then two years ago, Continental got married, and it took a new name. Houston renewed the courtship by trying to entice United to locate its post-merger corporate presence here. United responded with a reminder that whatever the emotional component to the relationship between town and trade, corporations are guided by the bottom line. It moved 1,500 corporate jobs out of Houston to Chicago. Some Houston leaders regarded it as a stinging betrayal.
“Why did you buy Continental? Why did you do it?” Councilman Andrew Burks thundered at United executives making their pitch against Hobby expansion to the council last month.
Part of that pitch was that it would cost the city jobs. Former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby seized on what he considered the irony while attending a news conference to announce the Houston-Southwest deal at the airport named for his father.
“Continental, or United, has been very concerned about job losses in Houston. They weren’t so concerned about job losses when they moved their headquarters to Chicago,” Hobby said.
“I know there are hard feelings about the headquarters location, but the merger was something we felt we had to undertake for the company’s future, to protect future jobs,” said Nene Foxhall, executive vice president of communications and government affairs at United.
Let me rewrite that sentence for you, Nene:
“I know there are hard feelings about the Hobby expansion proposal, but giving the go-ahead to Southwest to spend their own money doing it was something we felt we had to undertake for the city’s future, to protect future jobs.”
Wasn’t that hard, was it? You can believe whatever economic projections about this deal that you want, but asking the city to ignore its own report and give you what you want amounts to special treatment. Continental might have been able to get away with that back in the day, but what exactly has United done to deserve it?