The pilots eventually won a lucrative new contract, but United's situation progressively worsened. Passenger travel, particularly among business fliers, started dropping sharply as the economy weakened. United stopped making money. Then came the terrorist attacks that involved two hijacked United planes, and the whole airline industry went into a tailspin.
United, the world's second-largest airline behind American, went into an especially vicious decline. As its losses mounted, management and labor bickered constantly over whether workers should have to make concessions.
Facing a cash crisis, United's last hope was to secure a $1.8-billion federal loan guarantee. But first United needed wage cuts. The pilots' and airline attendants' unions agreed to make concessions. When the vote among the mechanics was taken in late November, Campbell reluctantly voted yes. But overall, the union members voted no.
Campbell remembers calling his wife and telling her, "We lost."
"I was very upset," he said. "At that point I felt a knot in my stomach and said to myself, 'Now what?' "
The answer came within days, when United failed to win the loan guarantee. It filed for bankruptcy protection Dec. 9. Suddenly, Campbell said, he went from feeling pride in telling people he worked at United to wincing whenever the subject came up.
"You get the sympathy looks" from friends and relatives who say, " 'I guess you're going to lose your job,' " he explained. "You don't want to hear that."
Campbell's children came home from school and reported that their friends were talking about United's woes as well. "I'd say, 'We'll be all right, don't worry about that,' " Campbell said. " 'That's Daddy's worry.' "
Indeed, it is his worry, manifesting itself in sleepless nights and not eating properly. Such behavior is common "in adverse situations like this where you don't feel there's something immediately you can do," said David Spiegel, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. "You're suffering with something you can't control, and that's hard."
Once in Chapter 11, United again sought wage cuts, and again the pilots and flight attendants agreed but the mechanics did not. So at United's request, a judge ordered the mechanics to take the pay reduction.
That lowered Campbell's hourly wage from $32.64 to about $29, or roughly $60,000 a year for a 40-hour week. His shares of UAL stock, once worth about $70,000, will probably become worthless.
But Campbell isn't bitter or militant. He's simply hopeful. Sometimes referring to United Chief Executive Glenn Tilton as "Mr. Tilton," he likes the boss' message that "we have to put that stuff behind us. He's got that attitude of 'you push, I'll shove.' People like him. But only time will tell."
In the meantime, Karen Campbell keeps her job as a supermarket cashier for the added income -- and keeps her faith.
"I just brace myself for the worst and hope for the best," she said. "I just refuse to be negative."