John Philp retired Thursday from United Airlines after 31 years with the company.He
worked out of Denver since 1992 and was instrumental in creating the carrier's dominant presence at Denver International Airport.
...More likely, it was a combination of these things that gave longtime United Airlines executive John Philp an affinity for wading into some of United's stickiest battles in the communities it serves, providing a no-nonsense version of the company's stance, negotiating a solution and earning the respect of adversaries and supporters alike. Philp, 65, who retired as United's director of governmental and public affairs Thursday, wasn't one to sugarcoat, and he was a company man through and through, colleagues said. He
told it like United saw it.Sometimes the news he
delivered stung, like when towns such as Wilmington, Del., learned the carrier would no longer serve them.Often, he
was the one telling employees that they would have to find new jobs.
The affable, white-haired Philp worked for United in Denver for more than a decade and served the company for 31 years. He
represented the airline as it negotiated with the city to have the dominant presence at Denver International Airport when it opened in 1995.He
dealt with the fiasco over the troubled automated baggage system that delayed DIA's debut. He
talked to frustrated citizens in smaller cities such as Grand Junction, explaining why financial considerations kept United from providing the breadth of service and the type of airfares they would like to see. He
lobbied to get United more favorable tax policies in various states and cities, fought to help the carrier keep lucrative international service and helped it set up a hub at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C.He
also worked on United's
failed plan to merge with US Airways, and he
fielded all manner of questions from informed and not- so-informed reporters. He
would argue with opponents during the day, then eat and drink with them and humor them with a razor-sharp wit in the evening.
said the mayor deserved it for fighting on behalf of the people of Denver
. Philp "was unique in the business," said Richard Williamson, a former Rocky Mountain News reporter who covered the airline industry.
was born in Scotland and moved with his
parents to Canton, Ohio, when he
was 10.He earned a bachelor's degree at Ohio State University - spending some of his college years in the Army - and went into TV production.
In 1965, the brash young man wrote the Army a letter, saying he
would go into active duty under two conditions: He
would get to lead an infantry company in Vietnam, and he
could leave the military upon his
return.At first, the Army basically said "no chance."But a year later, Philp
received a telegram accepting his
Just 5 ½ months into combat in Vietnam, he
was seriously wounded. His
armored personnel carrier hit a land mine, and the explosion killed everyone in the vehicle except him.He
nearly lost his
right arm, was temporarily blinded and spent 10 months in the hospital.
careers that followed, he
would tap into the memories of his
"In the Army, you had to have courage," he
said."I once had to send one of my men into the jungle, and he
said, 'John, what if I get killed?' I said, 'Well, if you die, I'm going to feel really bad because I really like you.But this is my job, and this is what I have to do.' "
After recuperating, Philp
landed a job as a TV anchorman in Canton. "I must have been the worst announcer in the history of TV," he said.
is also proud of United's
overall growth.When he joined the company, it served only 34 states, and its only flight over water was to Hawaii.
Now, United flies numerous overseas routes, with a major presence in Asia.
"We were the first airline to serve 50 states," he
said."Why?I don't know" - because some markets weren't profitable. He
watched United rise to become the world's largest carrier, then slip to No. 2 when American Airlines
bought TWA in 2001.
When United stumbled into the biggest airline bankruptcy in U.S. history in late 2002, Philp
knew Chapter 11 was a necessary step and didn't feel embarrassed for his
"I understood we were poised to follow Eastern and Pan Am down that road to no return" if United didn't seek shelter from creditors, he
Only recently, he
said, have large network carriers begun to effectively attack bloated cost structures.
The hardest part of his
said, has been having to deliver bad news to a market United was abandoning.
"It's not just telling the community, but telling employees," he
said all his
jobs have been fun, and he
treasures every opportunity he's
"I've been very fortunate," he