Captain chaos: Trump advises Boeing, despite swift failure of own airline

Adam Gabbatt


“What do I know about branding[?]” Donald Trump mused on Twitter, early on Monday morning. “Maybe nothing […] but if I were Boeing, I would FIX the Boeing 737 MAX, add some additional great features, & REBRAND the plane with a new name.”

Related: Trump says troubled Boeing 737 Max should 'rebrand with a new name'

Quite aside from the scant regard shown by the president for the 346 people who have died in two recent crashes involving the 737 Max, Boeing executives might also want to consider Trump’s business history before rushing to follow his advice.

In 1989, Trump bought an airline and branded it with his name. He then lost more than $100m in 18 months and was forced to shut the operation down after three years.

The president has a long track record of running Trump-branded businesses into the ground, whether through bankruptcy, lawsuits or sweeping incompetence.

The airline, Trump Shuttle, launched in June 1989. It was billed – by Trump – as a “diamond in the sky”. Two months later, one of his planes was forced to make an emergency landing in Boston when its nose gear – the front wheels – would not come down. Things didn’t get much better after that.

A Trump Shuttle plane makes an emergency landing.

Trump paid $365m for Eastern Airlines, which had gone bankrupt. But its 21 planes were ageing and as the Washington Post reported: “Trump’s team estimated that they overpaid $65m for the operation.”

According to Business Insider, after a year and a half Trump Shuttle had lost $128m, due to a combination of oil prices rising thanks to the Gulf war and the folly of Trump spending $1m on cladding each aircraft with gold fixtures and impractically plush carpets.

Less than three years after he bought the airline, Trump handed it to USAir. It stripped his name from the planes. Another Trump-branded business had failed.

Trump: the Game.

Among other such ventures, Trump magazine folded after 18 months, Trump Mortgage about the same. Trump Vodka – Vice said, “It tastes awful” – lasted about four years. It turned out no one wanted to play – or buy – Trump: The Game.

Related: I wrote The Art of the Deal with Trump. He's still a scared child | Tony Schwartz

Trump University, an endeavor described as a “straight-up fraud” by the New York attorney general, went out of business after former students sued. Trump ended up having to pay a $25m settlement.

“You can’t con people, at least not for long,” Trump noted in his ghostwritten bestselling book, The Art of the Deal.

“You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole.

“But if you don’t deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on.”

Trump has rarely followed his own advice. For Boeing, unlike his counsel on branding, it might make sense.