A list of things that United management should worry about in bankruptcy:
1) If United management tries to reduce the fixed fee it pays per departure to each of its regional affiliates, there is the possibility that two affiliates (i.e., ACA and Skywest) could take their regional jets elsewhere. Where would they go? ACA and Skywest are also Delta connection carriers. Delta could sabotage United in bankruptcy by increasing the number of regional jets that each of these carriers operate under the Delta Connection brand.
2) If United management goes to Boeing who is sitting on $1.3 billion of loans to United and asks to reduce that debt, Boeing could simply take back all the 777's financed by those loans. Why would it do that? There are healthier airlines out there who might be looking to purchase a 777 at a higher price than United would be willing to pay in bankruptcy. Qantas is always looking for planes on the cheap. That is how they ended up with some of AA's 737's and the A330's. Cathay is another possible customer. And, there is Delta again. Boeing could make them a deal they can't refuse. Why would Boeing sabotage United? Payback for the Airbus's and the conclusion that Boeing is better served by placing the planes with more Boeing-friendly customers.
3) If United cuts capacity at LAX, there is the risk that AA would seize the advantage to bulk up its domestic service. In fact, United faces a quadruple threat at LAX. If the Australasia routes are consolidated at SFO, Qantas will grow stronger at LAX and so will AA who carries many Qantas passengers on connecting flights. If United consolidates Tokyo flights at SFO, both JAL and AA might seize the opportunity. AA enters the market next April. If United under bankruptcy can't restore the LAX-HKG flight and must consolidate HKG flights at SFO, Cathay will only grow stronger at LAX and elsewhere (e.g., ORD) and so will AA since approval of its codeshare agreement with Cathay is now a mere formality. And finally, if United cuts any transcon service from LAX, particularly to IAD, Boston, or JFK, AA will only grow stronger, particularly at JFK. Even Delta could see an opportunity to renew its plans to be a more viable transcon airline.
4) As bankruptcy forces United to cut flights at non-core hubs and gateways, United's position at JFK is only going to become more precarious. With AA picking up more marketshare on transcon routes, there is a real possibility that the viability of United's JFK-LHR routes will diminish even further. Isn't ironic how United's problems are again providing cover for AA to get something it wants, the right to codeshare with BA on flights beyond LHR? Those codeshare rights will only make AA's JFK-LHR franchise stronger. The completion of the new AA terminal was supposed to provide the death blow, but United may virtually disappear from JFK even before then.
United's domestic competitors will probably wait before making any moves to jeopardize United's restructuring. Unfortunately, United isn't going to get any reprieve from its international competitors, particularly those in the Pacific. Qantas has already announced that it will be flying three times a week to Chicago via LAX. Why Chicago? Because they would rather put the hurt to United at Chicago than American at DFW? We will have to wait and see what Northwest and JAL will do, both on routes to Narita and on routes connecting in Narita to Asian points beyond. In a few months, however, Cathay initiates JFK to HKG service. Could ORD-HKG service be next? AA might have reserved this route for itself. And if it can get the pilots to sign a letter of agreement for the block hours on this flight, it might just initiate the service itself. Or, it could see the longterm strategic value of allowing Cathay to serve the route temporarily.
The long and short of it is that United's competitors, specifically its foreign competitors, are not going to make it easy for United to retain its far flung international operations. Because many of those competitors just happen to cooperate with AA in one form or another, the challenges only shift to the domestic arena after United decides to make the hard choices. Double jeopardy. That should give United a lot to worry about.