United Air Kiosks, Logos Will Signal Merger's Progress
By Mary Jane Credeur and Mary Schlangenstein
Sep 17, 2010 1:47 PM MT
Passengers flying UAL Corp.’s United Airlines or Continental Airlines Inc. may begin to see new airport signs and shared check-in kiosks early next year as the companies merge to form the world’s largest carrier.
Bigger operational changes such as joint websites, reservations systems and decisions on airplane purchases may not happen until early 2012 when the companies, which will retain United’s name, receive a single operating certificate from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.
“As soon as your capability to operate as a single airline in the customer’s eye is there, then I would start using the single name, the single brand,” Brett Snyder, an aviation consultant in Long Beach, California, who writes the blog CrankyFlier.com, said in a telephone interview.
Shareholders of UAL and Continental today approved the $3.22 billion all-stock merger that was announced in May and is scheduled to close by Oct. 1. The carriers must continue to run separate airlines and operations such as customer service and flight dispatching until they receive FAA approval to operate as a single entity.
United and Continental executives are taking a cue from Delta Air Lines Inc. by using the same consulting firm, Bain & Co., that helped Delta mesh operations with Northwest Airlines Corp. starting in 2008.
Websites, Customer Service
Passengers won’t see many immediate changes when the deal closes, Continental spokeswoman Julie King said. The websites for both carriers will continue to operate as they do now, and each company will run its own customer-service and marketing activities, she said.
United and Continental have decided to keep United’s Chicago headquarters. They will keep United’s name and incorporate Continental’s globe logo on the tails when they repaint planes.
Continental Chief Executive Officer Jeff Smisek will run the company, while United CEO Glenn Tilton will become non- executive chairman.
Planning for the integration is already under way, with about 30 groups working on aspects from accounting to technology, Tilton said in June.
It took Delta about a year and a half to fully combine operations with Northwest after their merger in October 2008.
Within a month, Delta and Northwest began aligning customer policies and fees for services such as taking pets onboard. The first Northwest airplane was painted in Delta colors that December.
Delta installed new signs with its name and logo at all major hubs by March 2009, and the companies were granted a single operating certificate from the FAA in December, which allowed them to combine pilot groups and flight procedures.
They combined websites and reservation systems in January, and finished meshing technology and dispatch systems in April.
United and Continental customers will start to see a more unified product in early 2011 as the airlines bridge airport kiosks and check-in, King said.
Eventually, “Continental and United will be able to conduct key customer processes, such as airport check-in and upgrades, for any traveler, regardless of whether they are on a Continental- or United-operated flight,” King said.
The airlines have not yet determined timing for specific moves such as changing airport-gate or ticketing-area signs, she said.
United and Continental had $29 billion in combined revenue last year. They have about 700 jets in their main fleets and employ 88,000 workers. The carriers predict as much as $1.2 billion in savings and new revenue from the merger.
To contact the reporters on this story: Mary Jane Credeur in Atlanta at firstname.lastname@example.org; Mary Schlangenstein in Dallas at email@example.com.