More Turbulence
by Barney Gimbel

(FORTUNE Magazine) - United Airlines may be out of Chapter 11, but that doesn't mean it's out of trouble. Sure, the company has shed 25,000 employees, 100 planes, and $10 billion in pension obligations, but many analysts wonder what it gained. United's hubs are in hotly contested markets, its fleet is aging, its demoralized workers are stretched thin, and it has little capacity to grow. And in an industry where Southwest-like efficiency is rewarded, United flies 17 different aircraft with 27 seat configurations. "There has been no change in leadership at the airline," says analyst Holly Hegeman of, "no evidence of innovative thinking, and no essential change to the airline's management structure." Bankruptcy did help United get its costs in line with its competitors', and it projects "significant profits" next year. But analysts warn that its financial plans are based on $50-a-barrel oil--and prices now top $65. Some suggest that the only way United can survive is to merge with a carrier like Continental. Together, they'd be able to trim about $1.36 billion in overlapping costs, according to a Bear Stearns analysis. Even Continental doesn't rule it out, saying it would consider a deal if offered a "bucket of dough," but that's something United certainly doesn't have. Top of page