When Jonathan Ornstein took over Mesa in 1998, the company was embroiled in a lawsuit against United Airlines over the canceling of Mesa and WestAir’s codesharing agreements in Denver and on the West Coast. Ornstein convinced the board to drop the legal action, explaining that United could be a future partner for Mesa and the legal action would just get in the way of any partnership opportunities.
United declared bankruptcy in 2002, another casualty of the downturn in traffic following the September 11th terror attacks. During the reorganization at United, one of United’s partner airlines, Atlantic Coast Airlines (ACA) could not reach an agreement on a renewed codesharing deal, so they dropped their partnership with United. United was suddenly left to search for a new partner, and they approached both Skywest and Mesa about replacing the ACA flying.
By September 2003, Mesa was flying six Dash 8s out of Denver as United Express to the mountain resort towns and five CRJ-700s flying United Express routes out of Denver, with an agreement for up to thirty-five jets, including CRJ-200s. Mesa then made an unsolicited bid to takeover Atlantic Coast Airlines, but eventually dropped that attempt after ACA filed a lawsuit. United eventually began moving the Mesa regional jet flying east. First, the Mesa jets went to Chicago O’Hare airport and United backfilled the Mesa absence in Denver with Skywest. Eventually, United moved most of the Mesa jet flying to Washington Dulles Airport. Ornstein later commented that Mesa’s operational performance improved greatly once the United Express jet flying was moved to Dulles.
Mesa continued to operate the Dash 8s out of Denver until 2010 when Mesa’s bankruptcy reorganization plans did away with all turboprop flying. Skywest took over those Dash 8 routes with their regional jets. After Mesa’s bankruptcy reorganization, the only United Express flying remaining for Mesa was twenty CRJ-700 aircraft based out of Dulles.
Mesa United Express CRJ-700
Mesa United Express CRJ-200
Mesa United Express Dash 8-200