BUYOUTS: Why Can't This Bird Fly?

Why Can't This Bird Fly?

Callers dialing the United Airlines pilots' hotline last week were confused. As the holiday tune Greensleeves played creakily in the background, the recorded message reassured listeners that the company's proposed employee buyout was still on track. But then again, was this some old tape left over from last Christmas?

For three years, United's employees have mounted one scheme after another to buy the airline, sending the stock bouncing as high as 290 and as low as 53. The collapse of a $6.8 billion buyout attempt last October triggered a stock- market minicrash. In April, United's board tentatively accepted a $4.4 billion...