United has closed one of the most bizarre legal sagas in recent airline history by agreeing to pay a $2.25m fine in exchange for a non-prosecution agreement from the United States Attorney’s Office (USAO).
Thus the US major will face no further action over its Newark, New Jersey-Columbia, South Carolina flights, which it allegedly re-instated as a favor to the then chairman of the Ports Authority of New Jersey, David Samson, who had a holiday home in South Carolina.
Samson resigned from the Ports Authority in March 2014, and four days later United dropped the route.
In a statement last week, United said it "accepted responsibility for certain conduct related to the establishment of the flight between Newark and Columbia.
"Also, United agreed to continue to enhance its compliance, anti-bribery and anti-corruption program policies.”
In connection with the affair Jeff Smisek resigned as United CEO last year, and two other senior executives also left the company.
Those departures and United's own internal investigation proved crucial to a resolution with the USAO, which recognized the airline's “early and extensive remedial efforts" in the case.
Nonetheless, the murky business raises questions over which other airlines are operating flights as sweeteners or quid pro quo offerings (United had been petitioning the Ports Authority for a rail link to Newark airport in the run-up to the scandal).
Also, if Newark-Columbia was indeed operating as Samson’s personal taxi service, wouldn’t it have been cheaper to chauffeur him in a corporate jet?