Up Front: HONCHOS
NICE PLUG, WARREN, BUT WRONG AIRLINE
WARREN BUFFETT HASN'T LET his investment in USAir stop him from doing ads for a competitor, Midwest Express. The two airlines go toe-to-toe on the Washington-Omaha route. But the recent Nebraska newspaper and magazine campaign features a picture of Buffett in front of a Midwest plane and quotes him praising the carrier as offering "the best value." Although Buffett doesn't mention USAir by name, he notes in the ad that Midwest Express "is the only way I could buy a nonstop" ticket from his Omaha base to the nation's capital.
USAir routes its Omaha passengers via Kansas City, Mo., while Midwest flies direct. Buffett, through an aide, says he appeared in the ad because Midwest's direct link is a boon to the Nebraska economy. Both carriers charge $468 for a seven-day advance round-trip ticket. Buffett travels to Washington regularly to keep tabs on his investments in two companies based there, The Washington Post and, yup, USAir.
Buffett has said the 1989 investment in USAir by his Berkshire Hathaway holding company was a mistake. Berkshire took a $268.5 million write-down on the investment this year, but a possible takeover by another airline (page 38) could let him recoup some of that. USAir shrugs off the Buffett ads, saying the two carriers don't share many overlapping routes.EDITED BY LARRY LIGHT, WITH OLUWABUNMI SHABI Mark Lewyn