A Look at John Tague, New President of United Airlines

Last Updated Jul 27, 2009 10:25 AM EDT

It looks like Glenn Tilton has finally started to publicly declare his succession plan for United Airlines, and John Tague unsurprisingly tops the list. He was named president of the airline last week.

What does this mean for the way things are going at the airline? Not much right now. My guess is that this simply solidifies what has been going on at the airline anyway, but now it's being formalized. Tilton really has had more of a hands off approach, and many of his speeches now seem to focus on industry issues in general. We can probably thank his appointment as the chairman of the board for the Air Transport Association for that.

If you told me in 2002 that John Tague would someday be president of United, I would have laughed at you. Tague left his previous job running ATA (into the ground) that year, and I would have guessed his airline career wasn't going anywhere.

With ATA, Tague decided to focus on building up a major scheduled airline from the previously smaller charter carrier. He bought a bunch of expensive, brand new airplanes and aggressively grew capacity in both Indianapolis and Chicago/Midway. The model collapsed (of course) and the airline limped along for awhile under Southwest's guardianship until it finally just disappeared. Many people point the finger at John Tague and his ill-fated expansion plans for the demise of the airline.

In 2003, he joined United, an airline that was vastly larger and with largely different problems, in a customer role. But his strategy at ATA was the opposite of what United has followed over the last few years. While he ordered new planes at ATA, United hasn't ordered a new aircraft in years. And while ATA grew rapidly under his leadership, United has done nothing but shrink.

It will be interesting to see now whether Tague's appointment as president means we'll see any changes in the United plan. I would bet, however, that we won't. He's been in the inner circle for quite a while, so I imagine he's onboard with what's been happening the whole time.
  • Brett Snyder

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