October 1, 2022
Today in Aviation: Continental, United Airlines Merger Completed
Today in Aviation

Today in Aviation: Continental, United Airlines Merger Completed

DALLAS – Today in Aviation, Continental Airlines (CO) was finally merged into United Airlines (UA), the former ceasing brand operations in 2012.

The combined companies created the largest airline globally based on the total number of passenger miles flown, valued at $3.2bn. The new carrier promised ‘an unparalleled global network.’ It would operate from eight major hubs, offering 5,500 daily flights to almost 400 destinations. 

It is worth noting that CO started as Varney Speed Lines (named after one of its initial owners, Walter T. Varney, who was also a founder of UA) in 1934, operating airmail and passenger services in the American Southwest over a route originating from El Paso and extending through Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Las Vegas, New Mexico to Pueblo, Colorado. 

The final flight was operated by a CO Boeing 737-800. (Photo: Eddie Maloney from North Las Vegas, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Initial “Virtual Merger”


In the immediate aftermath of the definitive merger agreement between rivals Delta Air Lines (DL) and Northwest Airlines (NW), merger talks between CO and UA began in February 2008. These talks were called off in April, as CO stated they would continue to operate as a separate carrier. However, the two airlines signed an agreement known as a “virtual merger” in June 2008. 

The timing of the events was notable because NW’s golden shares in CO (that gave NW veto authority against any merger involving CO) could be redeemed, freeing CO to pursue a marriage with UA.

United would go on to enter merger discussions with US Airways (US) in April 2010, but these talks quickly fell through. A month later, UA and CO confirmed they would join forces. Despite UA being seen as the dominant partner, the pairing was described as “a merger of equals.”

A Boeing 737-900 (N71411) at McCarran International Airport. The new livery after the merger retains the Continental theme, but with the Continental replaced by United. Photo: Eddie Maloney from North Las Vegas, USA – N71411, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31879483

New Branding


On May 2, 2010, the boards of directors at CO and UA approved a stock-swap deal that would combine them into the world’s largest airline in revenue passenger miles. The new airline would take on the UA name, CO’s livery, and be based in UA’s hometown of Chicago.

A new holding company was established, known as United Continental Holdings, Inc. CO’s boss, Jeff Smisek, was appointed Chief Executive of the new company, now based in Chicago, while UA’s Glenn Tilton served as the Non-Executive Chairman.

On March 3, 2012, CO’s reservation system and OnePass Frequent Flyer miles program were merged into UA. CO’s final official flight was CO6, from Tokyo to Houston. The last departure was CO Flight 1267 from Phoenix, arriving in Cleveland as United Flight 1267.


Featured image: Post-merger former United “tulip” and Continental “globe” aircraft at O’Hare International Airport. The merger was approved by both boards on May 2, 2010. Photo: Aero Icarus from Zürich, Switzerland – United Airlines Boeing 777-222; N779UA@ORD;12.10.2011/624bo, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26712120

editor
Writer, aviation fanatic, and Airways European Deputy Editor, Lee is a plant geek and part-time Flight Attendant for a UK-based airline. Based in Liverpool, United Kingdom.

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