Trans World Airlines Chairman Carl C. Icahn warned Monday that, if flight attendants go on strike and other union members do not cross their picket lines, he might dismantle the airline and sell off its pieces.
"It's worth a heck of a lot of money," he said. The financier, who spent between $350 million and $360 million for his investment in the nation's fifth-largest carrier and took control of it last month, declined to estimate how much he could sell it for. He noted that TWA's computerized reservation system, its domestic and international routes and its gate positions at airports are all valuable.
Icahn spent much of last year acquiring TWA stock. At that time, he consistently denied that he would sell the airline or break it up if he were successful in his effort to buy it.
When he apparently changed his tune Monday, some analysts and union officials insisted that he was merely trying to influence the flight attendants in order to obtain their consent to concessions on wages, benefits and work rules.
But Icahn said he is serious about the threat to break up the airline if the flight attendants and any of their union allies shut it down and denied that his language was only rhetoric.
Earlier, in a televised interview on CBS, he said: "We will consider . . . breaking up the company and selling the parts of it, as much as I hate to do it. I do not want to liquidate this company. I do not want to break it up. I want to make this company into something that is great and profitable."
The 7,000 members of the Independent Federation of Flight Attendants who work for TWA are scheduled to go on strike at midnight Thursday after a 30-day cooling-off period expires. Meanwhile, federal mediators in Washington are dealing with both sides in an attempt to end the deadlock.
Icahn said that he needs 3,500 flight attendants to operate the airline and that he has 1,500 ticket agents and 1,500 newly trained flight attendants ready to step in to replace strikers. And he issued a warning to the flight attendants: "If they go out, they're not coming back."
Karen Lantz, a spokeswoman for the flight attendants, criticized Icahn's statements, saying: "His attitude as an employer is the same as Frank Lorenzo's."