You're correct that I don't have a direct line to United HQ, and that I don't have an MBA. I do, however, have a fairly good working knowledge of how to keep companies afloat: revenues must exceed costs fairly consistently. Albeit very simplified, that's the basic rule to follow to avoid busting the bank.
United isn't doing that. UA's CASM and cost structure are both so high that they'd need unrealistic numbers of passengers to even come close to breakeven.
Costs are what will kill United. I have every belief that their employees are motivated and dedicated, that they are safe and comfortable and friendly and every other feelgood word about the aviation industry, except one: profitable.
Because of costs, United (and just about every other major) has had to whittle down service -- cut frills. That takes the quality of their product precariously closer to the LCCs who offer sometimes-comparable service (and, admittedly, sometimes not) but at a lower fare. They can offer this lower fare because their cost structures are lower. LCCs can be seat-factories because they have generally low cost structures, generally consistent overhead, and generally good planning.
So, with all of the people in United Economy flying essentially at a loss for the carrier, who's left to bring home the bacon? Premium passengers. I don't have a statistic to cite for this, but my guess based on my recent flights are that probably 50% or more of the people flying up front really paid to fly in the back and upgraded. So, 50% of the seats that you depend on for your profit are now filled with butts who aren't earning the airline any further margin, and are probably costing more money in the long run.
If that's the case, as I believe it is, then you can have all of the 1K and Premiers and Platinum Elites that you want, and all they'll do is lose you more money.
The quickest, sure-fire way to doom a business is to rely on an ever-increasing share of an ever-decreasing market. That's what United is doing: relying on the premium pax to subsidize the guys in the back while turning a blind eye to costs and bringing real, sustained change that will result in organic cuts in costs, and ultimately, CASM. They haven't done it yet, and I don't think they will.
American, for their part, is in the same boat. Holly Hegeman of PlaneBusiness uses a good analogy for them: American is the same as United, except that they have more furniture to burn before they're broke and out in the cold. American also is not making the changes necessary, and they very well could be in the same boat as United quite soon.
American 767: You asked people to tell the forum what the airlines did to offend me. I can tell you what United did: nothing at all. My flights on United have been generally pleasant. I was comfortable, people were friendly with few exceptions, and I absolutely love channel 9. But comfy seats and ATC on your headset does not a profitable airline make.