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How United Airlines Is Trying to Plan Around a Pandemic

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When the coronavirus pandemic wiped out travel in the spring, United Airlines slashed its flight schedule, salted away aircraft in the New Mexico desert and parked planes at hangars around the country.

That was the easy part.

Now, with what is normally the peak summer season behind it and travel proceeding in fits and starts, the airline is continuing to fine-tune every facet of its business, from maintenance to flight planning, as it tries to predict where a wary public will fly, a challenge even in the best of times.

“We can really throw away the crystal ball, which was hazy to begin with,” said Ankit Gupta, United’s vice president for domestic network planning.

Credit…Lucy Hewett for The New York Times
Credit…Lucy Hewett for The New York Times

Passenger volumes for U.S. airlines are down about 65 percent, according to an industry group, and major carriers have taken on enormous debt as they lose billions of dollars each month. After hopes for a second congressional rescue package faded last month, United furloughed more than 13,000 workers and American Airlines furloughed 19,000.

But while every airline is struggling, each struggles in its own way. United relies far more than its rivals on international travel, which is deeply depressed and is expected to take far longer than domestic travel to bounce back. Lucrative business travel will be slow to return, too, and the airline said this week that it had amassed more than $19 billion in cash and other available funds to cope with the downturn.

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“We’ve got 12 to 15 months of pain, sacrifice and difficulty ahead,” United’s chief executive, Scott Kirby, said on an earnings conference call on Thursday. “But we have done what it takes in the initial phases to have confidence — it’s really about confidence — in getting through the crisis and to the other side.”

In navigating that path, the airline has focused on finding savings while positioning itself to serve the few passengers who still want to fly. When the virus devastated travel in March and April, the airline took hundreds of planes out of circulation. Among the first to go were twin-aisle jets used for international flights, which dropped early as countries closed borders. Single-aisle planes — the kind used for domestic routes — followed soon after.

ImageAs the virus devastated travel in March and April, United took hundreds of planes out of circulation.
Credit…Lucy Hewett for The New York Times

About 150 planes were sent to long-term storage in Roswell, N.M. — yes, that Roswell — where the dry conditions are better suited for long-term aircraft preservation. Many others were parked at United’s hub airports in and near cities including Chicago, Washington and Newark, where technicians could more easily get them back into service if needed.

Since July, United has brought back more than 150 of the planes that the airline or its regional carriers had grounded, it said on Thursday. About 450 are still stashed away, but must be maintained in a way that allows flexibility.

To get it right, Tom Doxey, United’s senior vice president for technical operations, and his team consult models created by computer scientists and solicit guidance from maintenance crews. Generally, two considerations loom large: how soon a plane will need substantial maintenance and the likelihood that it will be among the first to start flying again.

“If you have an aircraft that maybe is less likely to come back soon, you kind of want it at the back of the parking lot,” Mr. Doxey said. “It goes into prolonged storage and it probably goes to a desert location.”

Credit…Lucy Hewett for The New York Times

As demand for domestic flights picks up, United will most likely put single-aisle Airbus A320s or Boeing 737s to use, so it keeps many at the ready, he said. The same goes for the Boeing 777s or 767s, which can be used for international travel, whenever it rebounds. Planes that recently underwent intensive maintenance are kept closer at hand, too, than those that may soon be due for a deeper examination.

Fortunately for Mr. Doxey and United, some travel trends have started to emerge, making his job easier. Most of the people still flying are staying within the country, visiting friends and relatives or vacationing outdoors. If airline planners are right, travel to powdery ski slopes in the West may pick up soon, too. Those flights would put United’s smaller single-aisle planes to use.

Planning routes in such lean times can be incredibly complex, with airlines weighing a range of variables on limited resources. Not only do the right planes need to be in the right places, but planners must be sure that they have the gate agents, baggage handlers, flight attendants and pilots needed for each flight — out and back — all while trying to accommodate erratic travel trends.

To predict winter demand, Mr. Gupta and his domestic planning team consulted with resort operators and staff members near ski towns to gauge how many flights the company should add to snowy destinations. Based on recent and historical trends, they also added an unusual mix of direct flights to Florida this winter from the Northeast and the Midwest. On Thursday, United began offering preflight coronavirus tests to customers headed from San Francisco to Hawaii to help them avoid the state’s quarantine requirements and hopefully increase sales. It is also planning to expand service on dozens of routes to tropical destinations near and within the United States and resuming flights on nearly 30 international routes.

Credit…Lucy Hewett for The New York Times

With few people flying internationally, though, United has less need for its wide-body jets, which account for a quarter of its fleet. But it has found a use for some of those bigger planes: When demand for air cargo spiked, United put its larger, fuel-efficient 787s to work hauling goods.

Before the pandemic, the airline operated more than 300 daily flights abroad, but that figure dipped to 11 during the depths of the crisis. Next month, the airline plans to operate more than 150 international departures each day. To understand when and how that demand might recover, Patrick Quayle, who oversees international network planning for United, and his team track a range of indicators, including national travel restrictions, the travel habits of dual citizens and the economic ties between countries.

Credit…Lucy Hewett for The New York Times
Credit…Lucy Hewett for The New York Times

“It’s a bit of playing United Nations and looking at alliances and looking at passport data, and it’s a bit of gut feeling, to be quite candid,” he said.

As difficult as planning has been, it is becoming even harder. The federal stimulus passed in March, the CARES Act, gave passenger airlines $25 billion to help keep tens of thousands employed. It also made life a little easier for network planners, allowing them to worry less about whether a flight would cover labor costs, a major expense, and freeing them up to make last-minute changes knowing that there were far more employees available to work than needed. The aid expired last month, though, and prospects of another round of funding have largely faded.

There may be some reason for hope, though. The Transportation Security Administration screened nearly one million people at airport checkpoints on Sunday, the highest number since mid-March, though it was still less than 40 percent of the number screened on the same weekday last year. Whatever happens in the months to come, Mr. Doxey said, United is prepared: “We have a plan in place.”

Credit…Lucy Hewett for The New York Times

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How to Grow a Hydroponic Garden

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Emily Marsh, who lives in Sonoma County, Calif., always thought the best thing about gardening was the feel of soil on her fingertips. But last year she and her fiancé moved to a townhouse with an 8-by-12-foot concrete slab for a backyard. As lockdowns in California stretched into the month of May, and Ms. Marsh, 30 and a co-owner of a janitorial company, read about the surge in gardens, she felt the urge to plant her own. But her only real option was a hydroponic setup.

“I was completely against it at first,” she said, adding that it just didn’t seem like real gardening. Reluctantly, Ms. Marsh purchased a unit from Lettuce Grow, a company that sells ready-to-grow hydroponic kits. “Now it’s just my favorite thing,” she said.

As fall’s first frost strikes plants across the country, you can practically hear the collective moan of America’s gardeners: No more fresh herbs, zucchini or heirloom tomatoes until next summer.

Unless you bring your pandemic garden indoors.

Like urban chicken coops and backyard beekeeping, interest in hydroponics has surged during the pandemic. For Aerogarden, another company selling hydroponic gardens, sales jumped 384 percent in the two weeks of March, a time period that followed most state lockdowns. From April through June, sales were up 267 percent year over year.

“It has been a really amazing year for us,” said Paul Rabaut, the company’s director of marketing. A representative for Lettuce Grow said it was on track to do 10 times the sales compared with last year.

Meanwhile, D.I.Y.-ers are building hydroponic gardens out of PVC pipes and five-gallon buckets. When lockdowns began, Vicki Liston, 45, a professional voice-over actor in New Mexico, wanted to limit her trips to the grocery store and started construction on a pipe-based system. She worried about keeping a pandemic garden alive in her very arid backyard, but so far the project has been a surprising success, she said.

Compared with traditional in-ground gardening, “hydroponics grows more food in less space with less water and less time,” said Dan Lubkeman, president of the Hydroponic Society of America.

That is, if you get everything right. Hydroponics is about optimizing growing conditions: You must have the perfect amount of light and nutrition available at all times. Nail it, and plants can grow up to five times as fast as they would in soil outside, Mr. Rabaut said.

Ms. Marsh, who now has gardens indoors and out, can vouch for Mr. Rabaut’s assertion. She is constantly amazed at the vigor of her plants. “We planted three tomato seedlings, and so far we have gotten 350 tomatoes,” she said. “It’s insane,” she said.

There’s a downside, though. Soil is pretty forgiving — get overzealous with your fertilizer, and your cucumbers may suffer but the soil can buffer a fair amount of the damage. Water is much less forgiving, and the Internet doesn’t always have great advice, Mr. Lubkeman said. He recommends connecting with your nearest hydroponics specialty shop where employees are likely to be experienced growers, or buying a book on the subject.

That’s one reason many new-to-hydroponic gardeners opt to buy a plug-and-play kit: These kits tell you exactly what to add and when. If you’re feeling crafty and a little adventurous, though, you can easily build one yourself.

Here’s how to reap a lot of produce without so much as getting your hands dirty.

ImageA hydroponic garden kit, complete with tomatoes, from AeroGarden.
Credit…AeroGarden

Whether you construct it yourself or buy a kit, a hydroponic garden needs the following:

  • Seeds or seedlings. If you’re doing this inside, look for varieties that thrive in containers. This will ensure none of your plants get so big they take over your whole hydroponic setup.

  • A reservoir for the nutrient solution, which is made up of all the macronutrients (think nitrogen and phosphorus) and micronutrients (like iron and calcium) plants need.

  • An aerating pump for oxygenating your nutrient solution, since plant roots need oxygen, too.

  • A water pump to move water out of the reservoir and onto your plants throughout the day.

  • Light! More on this below.

  • A “medium.” Since you’re not using soil, you’ll need something to hold the plant’s roots in place. Many mediums also help keep roots moist between waterings. Mr. Lubkeman recommends a material called rockwool for beginners.

As with most hobbies, you can spend a little or a lot. Originally, Ms. Marsh wanted to go the cheap route. Setting up a medium-size D.I.Y. system with a few buckets and an aquarium pump can set you back less than $150. But Ms. Marsh worried about getting everything working correctly. Lettuce Grow’s container is made from recycled plastic, and for Ms. Marsh, that tipped the scales toward buying a premade kit, even if units start at $348 — no lights included.

Aerogarden’s smallest units, which do include grow lights, start at $99, with larger models going up to $600. Ultimately, the decision about whether to buy a kit or build your own comes down to whether you enjoy tinkering or would rather not spend a Saturday gluing PVC pipes and plastic tubing together.

Once your set up is set up, you may see seeds sprouting within three days, though some plants take longer. By two weeks, your seedlings should start to look like real plants. Which is when Ms. Liston realized that her hydroponic experiment was not going quite right. Just a few weeks in, her plants were dying.

It turned out her tap water was too alkaline. A pH buffering solution fixed the problem. (Water testing between 6.5 and 7.0 on the pH scale is considered ideal.) A setup like AeroGarden will tell you when you need to add fertilizer or adjust the pH of your water. If you built your own operation, you’ll need to remember to add nutrients and check the pH of your water (using testing strips) weekly.

“It’s been fantastic,” Ms. Liston said, adding that once she got her light, pH and nutrient levels dialed in, “it just exploded.”

If some plant nutrients are good, more seems as if it would be better, right? That’s not at all the case, Ms. Liston said. So far, she’s managed not to overfeed her plants, but too much plant food can result in dead or severely damaged plants. How often and how much you’ll need to feed depends on the type of nutrient solution you’re using. Read the directions on the bottle.

Credit…ONA Creative

You may be able to grow lettuce, kale or herbs in a sunny window, but as days get shorter, investing in a full-spectrum, grow light is worth the expense. These lights provide the same range of light as the sun and you’ll see much faster growth, Mr. Lubkeman said. In Ms. Liston’s case, adding a light and moving her plants next to her sunniest window resulted in a noticeable change in their productivity.

Ms. Liston’s favorite thing about growing indoors is that it’s bug free. While that means you won’t need to pluck slugs from your lettuce, you will need to take over for bees and do your own pollinating. For plants like peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers, Mr. Rabaut said some customers report getting decent pollination rates just by shaking plants gently every day or two. However, you’ll get even better results if you’re willing to play the part of the bee — using a Q-tip or small brush to sweep pollen from one blossom to another.

This is in your house, after all. While there’s no dirt involved, these setups can get a little funky. Ms. Liston does a thorough wipe down of the PVC plant holders every two weeks. If you buy a premade kit, follow the manufacturer’s instructions on cleaning.

Ms. Marsh tries to clip back greens and herbs at least two times a week. Many items — like basil — do need to be kept trimmed back or else they’ll go to seed and stop producing. While hydroponic gardens are significantly less work than their outdoor counterparts (no weeding!) you can’t neglect your plants completely and still expect them to thrive, Mr. Lubkeman said.

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Lee Kun-hee of Samsung Dies at 78; Built an Electronics Titan

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Lee Kun-hee, who built Samsung into a global giant of smartphones, televisions and computer chips but was twice convicted — and, in a pattern that has become typical in South Korea, twice pardoned — for white-collar crimes committed along the way, died on Sunday in Seoul, the South Korean capital. He was 78.

Samsung announced the death but did not specify the cause. Mr. Lee had been incapacitated since a heart attack in 2014.

When Mr. Lee took the helm at Samsung Group in 1987, after the death of his father and the conglomerate’s founder, Lee Byung-chul, many in the West knew the group’s electronics unit only as a maker of cheap televisions and unreliable microwaves sold in discount stores.

Lee Kun-hee pushed the company relentlessly up the technological ladder. By the early 1990s, Samsung had surpassed Japanese and American rivals to become a pacesetter in memory chips. It came to dominate flat-panel displays as screens lost their bulk. And it conquered the middle-to-high end of the mobile market as cellphones became powerhouse computing devices in the 2000s.

Samsung Electronics today is a cornerstone of South Korea’s economy and one of the world’s top corporate spenders on research and development. Mr. Lee — who was chairman of Samsung Group from 1987 to 1998, chairman and chief executive of Samsung Electronics from 1998 to 2008, then Samsung Electronics chairman from 2010 until his death — was South Korea’s richest man.

He and his family members used a web of ownership arrangements to exert influence over the other companies under the Samsung umbrella. Over the course of his tenure, even as professional managers came to have more responsibility at the group, Mr. Lee remained Samsung’s big thinker, the provider of grand strategic direction.

But his reign also showcased the sometimes dubious ways in which South Korea’s family business empires, known as chaebol, safeguard their influence. South Korea’s corporate dynasties are such a major source of economic vitality that some South Koreans wonder whether the chaebol are holding their country hostage.

In 1996, Mr. Lee was convicted of bribing the country’s president, then pardoned. More than a decade later, he was found guilty of tax evasion but given another reprieve, this time so he could resume lobbying to bring the Winter Olympics to the mountain town of Pyeongchang in 2018.

Soon after the Pyeongchang Games, Lee Myung-bak, South Korea’s president from 2008 to 2013 and no relation, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for accepting $5.4 million in bribes from Samsung in exchange for pardoning Mr. Lee.

Lee Kun-hee was born in Daegu, in Japanese-occupied Korea, on Jan. 9, 1942, to Park Doo-eul and Lee Byung-chul, who had founded Samsung a few years earlier as an exporter of fruit and dried fish. The younger Lee was a wrestler in high school.

Samsung first grew by dominating the consumer staples, like sugar and textiles, that war-torn Korea needed. It later expanded into insurance, shipbuilding, construction, semiconductors and more. Lee Kun-hee graduated from Waseda University in Tokyo in 1965. He then studied in a master’s program at George Washington University but did not receive a degree.

He started his career at Tongyang Broadcasting Company, a Samsung affiliate at the time, in 1966. He worked at Samsung C&T, the conglomerate’s construction and trading firm, before being named vice chairman of Samsung Group in 1979.

When he became chairman in 1987, he took from his father a fixation on planning for the far future, even when times seemed good. But he added an overlay of existential fear and ever-present crisis that persists among Samsung brass to this day.

“We are in a very important transition,” Mr. Lee said shortly after taking charge, in an interview with Forbes. “If we don’t move into more capital- and technology-intensive industries, our very survival may be at stake.”

The radicalness of the transition he had mind was made clear when he summoned scores of Samsung Electronics managers to a luxury hotel in Frankfurt in 1993. For days, he lectured the executives, urging them to bury old ways of working and thinking. “Change everything,” he said, “except your wife and children.”

Samsung, he decreed, would focus on improving product quality instead of increasing market share. It would bring in talent from overseas, and it would require that senior executives intimately understand foreign markets and how to compete in them.

At the time, all of this was anathema in corporate South Korea.

“It was very much like Mao Zedong trying to change the mind-set of the Chinese people,” said Chang Sea-jin, a professor at the National University of Singapore.

In 1995, as part of the emphasis on quality, he visited a Samsung plant in the town of Gumi after a batch of cellphones was found to be defective.

What happened next became legend. According to “Samsung Electronics and the Struggle for Leadership of the Electronics Industry,” a 2010 book on the company by Tony Michell, the Gumi factory’s 2,000 workers gathered in a courtyard and were made to wear headbands labeled “Quality First.” Mr. Lee and his board of directors sat under a banner that read “Quality Is My Pride.”

Together they watched as $50 million worth of phones, fax machines and other inventory was smashed to bits and set ablaze. The employees wept.

Mr. Lee’s business record was not unblemished. Believing that electronics would become integral to cars, he started an automobile unit in the mid-1990s. Samsung Motors was sold off in 2000.

A dalliance with Hollywood was similarly short lived. In 1995, Steven Spielberg sounded Mr. Lee out over dinner about investing in a movie studio. Despite being a movie buff, the chairman and other Samsung executives ended up talking mostly about microchips.

“I thought to myself, ‘How are they going to know anything about the film business when they’re so obsessed with semiconductors?’ ” Mr. Spielberg later recalled. “It was another one of those evenings that turned out to be a complete waste of time.”

Samsung entered a phase of global conquest in the 2000s, using flashy devices and sleek marketing to implant its name firmly into the minds of Western consumers. Mr. Lee, however, was rarely seen in public. He was a devoted collector of sports cars and fine art.

By 2007, he had identified the next looming crisis for Samsung. China was ascendant in low-end manufacturing, while Japan and the West still led in advanced technologies. South Korean companies — Samsung included — were sandwiched in between.

But as he got started on his next overhaul of the Samsung way, accusations surfaced that he had dodged taxes on billions of dollars supposedly stashed in secret accounts. Instead of fighting the charges, he stunned South Korea by announcing his resignation on live television.

“I promised 20 years ago that the day when Samsung was recognized as a first-class business, the glory and fruition would all be yours,” he said in 2008, addressing employees, his voice a near whisper. “I truly apologize for not having been able to keep that promise.”

He was pardoned the following year, and was made Samsung’s chairman again in 2010.

After a heart attack in 2014, his son and vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, Lee Jae-yong, became the company’s de facto public face.

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Money is love too: 5 lessons from immigrants to manage your wallet

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October 24, 2020 5 min read

This article was translated from our Spanish edition using AI technologies. Errors may exist due to this process.

Adina Chelminsky’s grandfather left Poland when he was just 13 years old and unable to speak a single word of Spanish. However, when he arrived at the port of Minatitlán in Veracruz, he had no money, but he began to work tirelessly until he managed to open a tlapalería that, believe it or not, continues to operate in Corregidora in Mexico City.

“The most important thing I know about finances I learned from my immigrant grandparents who came to Mexico with nothing,” said Chelminsky in her participation in MoneyFest 2020 . “My grandfather was a true entrepreneur because he knew that entrepreneurship was 50% sweat and not just having a ‘millionaire’ idea”.

Adina Chelminsky is not only an accomplished economist and entrepreneur, she is also the author of the popular finance book Cabrona y Millonaria . However, despite his academic training, he points out that the best lessons he has had on money management always come from immigrants ”.

“People like my grandparents who came to Mexico in search of opportunities understand better than anyone how to handle money in a crisis, because they know how to face adversity and prosper in a world they understand,” said the expert.

Image: Money Fest 2020

5 love lessons told with money

Adina’s two paternal grandparents, both immigrants, taught her five basic universal financial principles. “They not only left me with an unpronounceable last name [he says laughing], but also strategies that can be applied always and by everyone.”

1. There is no asset more valuable than education: Whether for one or the children, education is one of the smartest investments that can be made because it is a portable instrument that does not lose returns over time.

“When I was born, my grandfather opened an account for me to pay for a master’s degree. No BA, a MASTER’S DEGREE . This so that there would be no doubt about what I could achieve ”.

2. “Whoever has a store to attend to it”: And in the same way, whoever has savings and investments, keep an eye on them.

“My other grandfather was the smartest person to make investments because he was always informed. It taught me never to go into a business that I didn’t understand or to sign a contract that I hadn’t read.

3. Don’t screw your kids and plan your retirement: “My grandparents came to Mexico and they knew they wanted to die in it. At that time there were no Afores or retirement plans, but month after month they saved for that moment, even if it was at the cost of a luxury ”.

Adina pointed out that her grandparents always knew that they did not want to be a burden for their children when the time came and on the contrary, they always made an effort to have a dignified old age.

4. Finances are ALWAYS a family affair and especially a couple: Sometimes talking about money with your partner can unleash a pitched battle, but it is about being a team.

“There wasn’t a time when my grandmothers didn’t have a say in financial discussions because they ran the house. In those times, my grandparents had the last word, but they always decided between all of us ”, Adina recalls and points out that especially in times of crisis, her grandparents were precisely a COUPLE , partners.

“Today there is a lot of financial infidelity, individual debts, hidden problems and half truths. It makes me think that my grandparents were ahead of their time ”.

5. There is nothing more patriotic than building well-being for others: Adina’s grandparents lived committed to Mexico and providing jobs was always one of their most active priorities.

“As an immigrant you want to help the country that made you its own. There is nothing more patriotic than building well-being for others ”.

It doesn’t matter where we come from, Adina noted, whether from immigrants, born savers, born profligates, or parents who simply did what they could with what they had. “Learning from the past and the financial history that shaped us is essential to build your future.

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