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United Airlines

United Air Lines, Inc., trading as United Airlines is a major airline of the United States. It is a subsidiary of UAL Corporation with corporate offices in Chicago at 77 West Wacker Drive, and its operations base in nearby Elk Grove Township. United's largest hub is O'Hare International Airport, where it has 650 daily departures. United also has hubs in Denver International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, and Los Angeles International Airport. Its largest maintenance hub is the Maintenance Operations Center at San Francisco International Airport.

As of July 31, 2006, United is the world's second largest airline by revenue-passenger-miles (behind American Airlines), third-largest by total operating revenues (behind Air France-KLM and American Airlines), and fourth-largest by total passengers transported (behind American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines). United has 56,000 employees and operates 433 aircraft.

On February 1, 2006, United emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection under which it had operated since December 9, 2002, the largest and longest airline bankruptcy case in the history of the industry.

In February 2008, UAL Corporation and Continental Airlines Inc. began advanced stages of merger negotiations and were expected to announce their decision in the immediate aftermath of a definitive merger agreement between rival Delta Airlines and Northwest Airlines. The timing of the events was notable because Northwest's golden shares in Continental (that gave Northwest veto authority against any merger involving Continental) could be redeemed, freeing Continental to pursue a marriage with United. On April 27, 2008, Continental broke off merger negotiations with United and stated it was going to stand alone. Despite ending merger talks, Continental is reportedly in discussion with United about a possible switch from the SkyTeam Alliance to the Star Alliance, of which United is a member.

On April 27, 2008 it was reported that UAL Corporation and US Airways Group, Inc. were in the advanced stages of merger negotiations as well. Sources stated that a merger was expected to be announced within two weeks of the report. United pilots vociferously rejected the proposal and vowed to fight it. Star Alliance co-founder Lufthansa Airlines CEO Wolfgang Mayrhuber threw his support behind a marriage of partner carriers United and US Airways.

On June 4, 2008, United announced it would close its Ted unit. The ex-Ted Airbus aircraft will be reconfigured and returned to mainline configuration; to compensate the removal of United's Boeing 737s that are set to be retired, reducing the mainline fleet from 460 to 360 aircraft and furthering the airline's goal of cutting domestic capacity by 15 percent.



UAL traces its claim to be the oldest commercial airline in the United States to the Varney Airlines air mail service of Walter Varney, who also founded Continental Airlines. It was founded in Boise, Idaho. Varney's chief pilot, Leon D. "Lee" Cuddeback, flew the first Contract Air Mail flight in a Swallow biplane from Varney's headquarters in Boise, Idaho to the railroad mail hub of Pasco, Washington on April 6, 1926 and returned the following day with 200 pounds of mail. April 6 is regarded in the United Airlines company history as both its own birthday and the date on which "true" airline service—operating on fixed routes and fixed schedules—began in the United States. Varney Airlines' original 1925 hangar served as a portion of the terminal building for the Boise Airport until 2003, when the structure was replaced.

In 1927, airplane pioneer William Boeing founded his own airline, Boeing Air Transport, and began buying other airmail carriers, including Varney's. Within four years, Boeing's holdings grew to include airlines, airplane and parts manufacturing companies, and several airports. In 1929, the company changed its name to United Aircraft Transport Corp. In 1930, as the capacity of airplanes proved sufficient to carry not only mail but also passengers, Boeing Air Transport hired a registered nurse, Ellen Church, to assist passengers. United claims Church as the first airline stewardess.

Following the Air Mail Scandal of 1930, the Air Mail Act of 1934 banned the common ownership of manufacturers and airlines. United Aircraft-Transport's President Philip G. Johnson was forced to resign and moved to Trans-Canada Airlines, the future Air Canada. William Boeing's company was broken into three: a parts supplier (the future United Technologies), an aircraft manufacturer (the Boeing Airplane Company), and an airline group—United Air Lines. The airline company's new president, hired to make a fresh start as airmail contracts were re-awarded in 1934, was William A. Patterson, who remained as president of United Airlines until 1963.

Expansion into a national carrier

United's early route system, formed by connecting air mail routes, operated north-and-south along the West Coast, and east-to-west along a transcontinental route from San Francisco via Denver, Colorado to Chicago in the Midwest and on to Washington, DC. The early interconnections during this era became the basis of major United hubs in these cities, and still exist today.

On the night of October 11, 1933, a United Boeing 247 exploded in mid-air and crashed near Chesterton, Indiana, killing all seven aboard. Investigation revealed that the explosion was caused by a nitroglycerin bomb placed in the baggage hold. The United Airlines Chesterton Crash is believed to be the first proven case of air sabotage in commercial aviation history. No suspects or motives were ever found.

During World War II United-trained ground crews modified airplanes for use as bombers, and transported mail, material, and passengers in the war effort. Post-war United benefited from both the wartime development of new airplane technologies (like the pressurized cabin which permitted planes to fly above the weather) and a boom in customer demand for air travel. This was also the period in which Pan American Airways established a Tokyo hub and revived its Pacific route system that would later be acquired by United.

On November 1, 1955, United Airlines Flight 629, which was flying from Stapleton Airport in Denver to Portland, Oregon, was bombed, killing everyone on board the Douglas DC-6B aircraft. The bomb was planted by a man named Jack Graham who placed the bomb in his mother's luggage with the intent of collecting on her life insurance policy. Graham was executed a year after the explosion.

The company merged with Capital Airlines on June 1, 1961, making it the world's largest commercial airline and giving it a route network covering the entire United States.

In 1968 the company reorganized, creating UAL Corporation, with United Airlines as a wholly owned subsidiary.

United Airlines has the distinction of being the only commercial airline to have operated Executive One, the designation given to a civilian flight which the U.S. President is aboard. On December 23, 1973, then President Richard Nixon flew as a passenger aboard a United DC-10 flight from Washington Dulles to Los Angeles. It was explained by his staff that this was done in order to conserve fuel by not having to fly the usual Boeing 707 Air Force aircraft.. This however turned out not to be the case as 'Air Force One' flew behind in case of an emergency.


United had begun to seek overseas routes in the 1960s, but the Transpacific Route Case (1969) denied them this expansion. It did not gain an overseas route until 1983, when they began flights to Tokyo from Portland and Seattle. In 1985, United agreed to purchase Pan American World Airways' entire Pacific Division, Boeing 747SPs, and L-1011-500s for $750 million. By the end of 1986, United operated flights to 13 Pacific destinations, most of which were purchased from the ailing Pan American World Airways.

Economic turmoil, labor unrest, and the pressures of the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act greatly affected the company, which incurred losses and saw a greatly increased turnover in its senior management through the 1970s and early 1980s.

In May 1981, one week after rival American Airlines launched AAdvantage, the first frequent flyer program, United launched its Mileage Plus. The Wall Street Journal mistakenly reported United's program to be the first.

In 1982, United became the launch customer for the Boeing 767, taking its first delivery of 767-200s on August 19.

Strike of 1985

On May 17, 1985 United's pilots went on a 29-day strike claiming the CEO, Richard Ferris, was trying to "break the unions." They used management's proposed "B-scale" pilot pay rates as proof. American Airlines already had a non-merging B-scale for its pilots. Ferris insisted United had to have pilot costs no higher than American's, so he offered United pilots a "word-for-word" contract to match American's, or the same bottom line numbers. The United ALPA-MEC rejected that offer. The only choice left, to achieve parity with American's pilot costs, was to begin a B-scale for United's new-hire pilots.

Ferris wanted that B-scale to merge in the captain's ranks, which was more generous than American's B-scale, that never merged at all. But, the ALPA MEC insisted they merge in the new pilot's sixth-year with the airline. In the final hours before the strike, nearly all issues had been resolved, except for the time length of the B-scale. It appeared that would be resolved too as negotiations continued. ALPA negotiators delivered a new counter-proposal at 12:20 A.M. in an effort to avoid the strike. However, MEC Chairman Roger Hall, who was hosting a national teleconference from the Odeum (a convention center in the Chicago suburbs) with F. Lee Bailey, declared the strike was on at 12:01 A.M., on May 17, without further consulting the negotiators, some of whom believed they could find agreement on all contract terms, if the negotiations were allowed to continue. Moments before the ALPA announced strike deadline, they began a "countdown of the final 30 seconds from Chicago" (the Odeum teleconference). Doing that made it impossible to extend the strike deadline, so that the final issues could be resolved without a strike.

This struggle cost the airline USD $1 billion, and provoked a long period of labor unrest and financial deterioration that culminated in bankruptcy nearly 20 years later.

Mr. Ferris changed United's parent company's name from UAL Corporation to Allegis in February, 1987 but the name change was short lived. Following Ferris' termination by the board, Allegis divested its non-airline properties in 1987 and reverted to the name UAL Corp. in May, 1988 That helped clear the path for the United Pilots to do an ESOP takeover of United, which eventually did happen in 1994.

Record-setting flight

In 1988, using a 747SP-21 purchased from Pan American World Airways, United flew a 2-stop around-the-world flight to raise money for the Friendship Foundation, to which the plane was 'loaned'. The flight made a very short-lived record for fastest flight around the globe; within a month, a Gulfstream IV business jet had broken Friendship One's record

Employee Stock Ownership Plan

The decline of Pan American World Airways continued to offer new opportunities for United. In 1991 the company expanded dramatically, purchasing Pan Am's routes to London Heathrow Airport. In direct negotiations with the UK government, United also obtained rights to fly to Heathrow from Chicago--the only Heathrow rights provided to a US carrier subsequent to the Bermuda II Treaty. However, the aftermath of the Gulf War and increased competition from low-cost carriers led to losses of USD $332M in 1991 and USD$ 957M in 1992. In 1992, United purchased now-defunct Pan Am's Latin American and Caribbean routes and Miami gates, but United allowed months to elapse between Pan Am's demise and its launch of service. During this time, American Airlines nearly doubled in size in Miami and Latin America, and as a result, United never saw much success in the region.

In 1994, United's pilots, machinists, bag handlers and non-contract employees agreed to acquire 55% of company stock in exchange for 15% to 25% salary concessions. The flight attendants voted to not participate in the deal, and at the beginning some wore buttons saying "we just work here." The Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) made United the largest employee-owned corporation in the world. United used the opportunity to create a low-cost subsidiary, Shuttle by United, in an attempt to compete with low-cost carriers.

United made substantial use of its employee-ownership in its marketing communications, with slogans such as "the employee-owners of United invite you to come fly the friendly skies," "we don't just work here," and "thank you for calling United Airlines; please hold and one of our owner-representatives will be with you shortly."

The financial outcomes of the ESOP were decidedly uneven for different players. As part of ESOP agreement, United CEO Wolf resigned and took a consulting job with Lazard Freres, the very investment company he had hired to advise United's board during the ESOP buyout process. Stewart Oran, the key legal advisor to the pilots' union, received a $5.5 million package to join the management of the new employee-owned company as legal counsel after the ESOP was formed. United's unions, having larger voice in running the company, later successfully bargained for significant pay increases, but the effect was only short-term. The rank and file employees were locked in to their stock, which got wiped out in the eventual bankruptcy.

It was around this period (in 1993) that United introduced its grey and blue color scheme. It had been criticized that the color scheme blended with the darkness during nighttime operations.

Turn-of-the-century developments

In 1997, United co-founded the Star Alliance with Air Canada, Lufthansa, SAS and Thai Airways. That same year, United opened a major hub at Los Angeles International Airport.

United was a launch customer of the Boeing 777 and had significant input on its design. It was also the first airline to introduce the twin-jet in commercial service.

In 1998, Delta Air Lines and United introduced a marketing partnership that included a reciprocal redemption agreement between SkyMiles and Mileage Plus programs and shared lounges. This scheme allowed members of either frequent flier program to earn miles on both carriers and utilize both carriers' lounges. Delta and United attempted to form an even cozier codeshare relationship, but this was deal was effectively killed by ALPA. The marketing partnership ended in divorce in 2003, but paved the way for a future alliance with US Airways.

In May 2000, United announced plans to acquire competitor US Airways in a complex deal valued at $11.6 billion. The offer drew immediate scorn from consumer groups and employees of both airlines. By the following year, regulatory sentiment was against the deal, and United withdrew the offer just before the Department of Justice barred the merger on antitrust grounds in July. The two airlines subsequently formed an amicable partnership that led to US Airways' entrance into the Star Alliance.

May 2000 also saw a bitter contract dispute between United and its pilots' union. Planning for the busy summer season, United had counted on its pilots flying overtime. However, the pilots could not be forced to work overtime, and most pilots refused to fly the extra hours. Although United knew they would have to cancel numerous flights if this were to happen, they did not hire new pilots to make up for the potential shortage. Over the summer, United had to cancel a large portion of its schedule at its major hubs. Eventually, CEO Jim Goodwin and the rest of the management had to get the pilots back in the cockpits and quickly offered the pilots a 48% increase over four years with up to 28% upfront.

September 11

As part of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, two United Airlines planes were hijacked by terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda. One aircraft was a Boeing 767-222 (Flight 175) that crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City, and the other was a Boeing 757-222 (Flight 93) that crashed in rural Pennsylvania. The latter was suspected to have been directed towards the United States Capitol building according to the United States Department of Homeland Security. Only United and American Airlines were significantly affected on September 11, 2001.

Bankruptcy and reorganization

United, with a strong presence on the West coast, benefited from the dot-com boom, which boosted traffic (especially premium traffic) to its San Francisco hub. This increase was only temporary and when the 'bubble' finally burst United was in a worse position than before because it had failed to keep costs under control. Coupled with a battered network (after the dot-com bust), the September 11 attacks, and skyrocketing oil prices, the company lost $2.14 billion in 2001 on revenues of $16.14 billion. In the same year United applied for a $1.5 billion loan guarantee from the federal Air Transportation Stabilization Board established in the wake of the September 11 attacks. When the IAM (a union comprised of ground service workers and mechanics) failed to approve the loan guarantee (while all other unions approved the loan guarantee), the application was rejected in late 2002 and the company was forced to seek debtor-in-possession financing from commercial sources to cover the expected future losses. United tried several times to obtain the government loans, even enlisting several congressmen and senators for help. The Government rejected the application due to poor money management by its corporate officers.

Unable to secure additional capital, UAL Corporation filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December. The ESOP was terminated, although by then its shares had become virtually worthless. Blame for the bankruptcy has fallen on the events of September 11, which triggered financial crisis in all the major North American airlines. However, the rise of low-cost carriers, labor disputes, and problems within the management structure of the company also contributed significantly.

United continued operations during its bankruptcy, but was forced to cut its costs drastically. Tens of thousands of workers were furloughed, and all city ticket offices in the US closed. The airline canceled several existing and planned routes, and eliminated its entire Latin American gateway and flight crew base at Miami International Airport after March 1, 2004. In 2003, United abandoned its maintenance hubs in Oakland and Indianapolis, even though maintenance was less expensive in Indianapolis, and transferred work to its San Francisco Maintenance Operations Center. Furthermore, they reduced their mainline fleet from 557 (before 9/11) to 460 aircraft.

At the same time, the airline continued to invest in new projects. On November 12, 2003, it launched a new low-cost carrier, Ted, to compete with other low-cost airlines. In 2004 it launched its luxury "p.s." (for "premium service") service on re-configured 757s from JFK Airport in New York City to Los Angeles and San Francisco. The service was targeted to business customers and high-end leisure customers in the coast-to-coast market.

Financial pressure on the airline was heavy. The SARS epidemic in 2003 depressed traffic on United's extensive Pacific network. The soaring cost of jet fuel ate away remaining profits United made. United implemented several fare hikes on overseas routes, citing rising fuel costs, in 2004 and 2005. Two days after its triumphant first flight to Vietnam, United announced that it would cut U.S. flight capacity by 14% after the holidays and add more international flights, which were more profitable.

United took advantage of its Chapter 11 status to negotiate hard-to-cut costs with employees, suppliers, and contractors, including cancellation of feeder contracts with United Express Atlantic Coast Airlines (which became Independence Air) and Air Wisconsin (which became a US Airways Express carrier).

Most controversial of all, however, was the 2005 cancellation of its pension plan, the largest such default in U.S. corporate history. It renegotiated its contracts with the pilots' and mechanics' unions for lower pay; however, the Association of Flight Attendants resisted until the bankruptcy court ruled in United's favor. Criticism was also leveled at the CEO, Glenn Tilton, for demanding pay cuts from employees while receiving the highest salary of any major U.S. airline CEO.

Originally slated to exit bankruptcy protection after 2½ years in the third quarter of 2005, United requested yet another extension in light of record-high fuel prices. On August 26, 2005, the bankruptcy court extended the airline's exclusive right to file a reorganization plan to November 1, although it also stated firmly this extension would be the last. United announced at the same time it had raised $3 billion in exit financing and filed its Plan of Reorganization, as announced, on September 7, 2005.

The bankruptcy court approved the restructuring plan on January 20, 2006, clearing the way for United to exit bankruptcy on February 1, 2006, and finally return to normal operations.

Beyond Chapter 11

On December 9, 2004, the airline made history when UA869 (747-400) landed at Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. The scheduled flight from San Francisco via Hong Kong (SFO-HKG-SGN) was the first by a U.S. airline since the end of the Vietnam War, when Pan Am halted service shortly before the fall of Saigon in 1975.

On July 16, 2006, United Airlines announced that it would be moving its headquarters from suburban Elk Grove Village to the Chicago Loop. The Top 350 Executives were moved in the first half of 2007 to 77 West Wacker Drive. The Elk Grove Village campus was renamed an Operations Center.

On August 4, 2006, United Airlines formally ended free meals served in the economy cabin on domestic flights. The change came after scaling back the amenity over several years since 2001, until it was finally eliminated when the airline cut it from United's "p.s." flights.

United's current management have called for consolidation in the industry. The Wall Street Journal revealed on December 12, 2006 that Continental Airlines was in merger discussions with United. A deal was not "certain or imminent," with the talks being in a preliminary state. On April 04, 2007, United and British carrier bmi announced that they would 'effectively merge their trans-Atlantic operations', which would involve strengthening their alliance to a level far more intimate than its current code-share alliance. The merged operations would begin in March 2008, if approved. On May 3, 2007 United acquired an equity stake in its longtime partner Aloha Airlines . On June 14, 2007, CFO Jake Brace said his company is still looking to tie the knot with a suitable merger partner.

On June 19, 2008, United Airlines announced an extensive partnership with Continental Airlines. This partnership will include codeshare and frequent flyer agreements. Also, Continental Airlines has decided to leave the SkyTeam in an effort to join the Star Alliance to streamline the new agreements with United. However, before any partnerships can go into effect, Continental must receive regulatory approval, and until any approval has been given, it will be business-as-usual.

Recent news

On July 13, 2007, a federal judge ruled that the 9/11 damages lawsuit against United and American airlines would begin in September.

As of September 2007, United's largest owner was Bank of America, and Fidelity Investments became the second largest owner by acquiring an 11 percent stake in the company.

On September 25, 2007 United received permission from the FAA for non-stop service from SFO to Guangzhou, China starting in April 2008. Its application to fly between Los Angeles and Shanghai in 2009 was denied. Due to the impact of higher fuel costs it was announced on April 14, 2008 that this route would be delayed for one year.

United has been investigating significant potential changes to its corporate structure. The initiatives under consideration include:

  • Divesting of the Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul operations at SFO.
  • Spinning off the cargo division.
  • Spinning off the Mileage Plus frequent flier program.

On November 14, 2007, Pardus Capital Management LP, a hedge fund that owns 7 million shares of Delta and 5.6 million shares of United, called for the two carriers to merge. This action sent shares of both airlines up. However, the two airlines quickly denied official talks of any merger.

On February 19, 2008, Westin Hotels & Resorts announced a refreshed partnership with United where Westin will provide products from their Heavenly Bed line on p.s. routes later this year.

In May 2008, the American Customer Satisfaction Index scored United Airlines last among United States based airlines in customer sanctification a 21% decrease since the study began in 1994 and a 11% decrease over the previous year.

On June 12, 2008, United announced it would charge $15 for the first checked bag, becoming the second United States airline to do so, the first being American Airlines. The charges, while not affecting every United flight, were created in an effort to offset high fuel prices.

On June 28, 2008, United announced the cessation of several international routes including San Francisco-Nagoya and Chicago-Mexico City.

On September 8, 2008, the price of UAL shares fell by three-quarters in fifteen minutes amid rumours of another bankruptcy, before NASDAQ temporarily halted trading. The rumours were traced to an old story on the South Florida Sun-Sentinel website about the 2002 bankruptcy being picked up by Google News and subsequently presented by Bloomberg LP as breaking story. The shareprice subsequently recovered most of its value.

Merger discussions with Continental and US Airways

On April 28,2008, United and US Airways reportedly were in advanced merger talks following the announcement that the board of Continental Airlines, another prospective merger partner, had voted not to pursue a merger with United.

Although airline sources claim that no hubs would be closed, East coast operations in Philadelphia and Washington, hubs for US Airways and United respectively, are in close proximity.

Oil price increases since 2003

In May 2008 United called off the merger discussions. Subsequent to the failed merger attempts, and with the oil price increases since 2003 in full swing, United, Continental and US Airways, as well as most other carriers announced sweeping reductions in flights and aircraft groundings. United announced the grounding of its entire 737 fleet of 96 aircraft beginning in September 2008, in addition to six of its 30 747s.

On June 19, 2008, CEOs of both United Airlines and Continental Airlines signed a pact which possibly could eventually lead to a merger between the two airlines. The alliance is an agreement to link international networks and share technology and passenger perks. This agreement is basically a "virtual merger" that will include many of the benefits of a merger without the actual costs and restructuring involved. The alliance will take effect in about a year after Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines complete their merger, as that will release Continental from the SkyTeam contract and allow for the required nine-month notice. Additionally, Continental has declared that they will join the Star Alliance, once Delta and Northwest merge.


United Airlines operates 3,300 flights a day to 210 destinations in 30 countries.

Route network

United operates an extensive domestic route network concentrated in the Midwestern and Western United States. United is also prominent in transcontinental, transatlantic, and transpacific service. It is by far the leading US carrier to Hawaii and largest to Asia and Australia, flying 26,152,441,000 transpacific revenue passenger miles in 2006 or 306 weekly departures; from September 2006-August 2007, United carried 3.3 million passengers to/from the Hawaiian Islands.

United is the only US carrier which operates its own aircraft from the US mainland to Australia. (Hawaiian Airlines flies from Honolulu to Sydney and Continental Micronesia, a wholly owned subsidiary of Continental Airlines, maintains a route from Guam to Cairns). United Airlines is the only US carrier to serve Vietnam (via Hong Kong) and Kuwait (until November 7, 2008, when Delta will also start service.).

In 1988, the bilateral (though not reciprocal) treaty with Japan was amended to allow additional routes between the two countries. United's application to fly from Chicago to Tokyo, a significant gap in its routes previously, was approved.

United operates a low-cost leisure brand called Ted, which is based out of Denver, Colorado. The name is taken from the last three letters of its parent United. Ted serves leisure destinations within the United States and Mexico with 240+ daily flights utilizing 55 aircraft. Ted was created to compete with other low-cost airlines like Frontier and Southwest Airlines. After unsuccessful attempts by other U.S. airlines such as Delta with its Song airline and even United itself with its formerly defunct Shuttle by United to create a low-fare subsidiary, Ted is the only "airline-within-an-airline" left in the U.S. United has announced the discontinuation of its Ted product beginning in the fall of 2008.

United is focusing on its international presence, notably in the People's Republic of China, with nonstop flights to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou (beginning June 2009), and Hong Kong from its hubs in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. In September 2007 United was granted a route from San Francisco to Guangzhou. These routes offer a higher proportion of premium fare passengers while being relatively insulated from the cut-throat competition in the domestic market, especially from low-cost carriers. United competes vigorously with discount carriers on about 70 percent of its domestic market. United has also focused more on Latin America, a region from which it had largely retreated in the last decade, and added new destinations and frequencies to Mexico and the Caribbean.



As of April 2008, United operates 460 (now 433) aircraft with average fleet age of 13.7 years.
United Airlines Fleet
Aircraft Total Passengers
(First/Business/Economy Plus/Economy)
Routes Notes
Airbus A319-100 55 120 (8/-/40/72) Domestic, Canada, Mexico, Caribbean
Airbus A320-200 42
138 (12/-/36/90)
Ted 156 (-/-/66/90)
Domestic, Canada, Mexico, Caribbean Ted aircraft will be merged back into mainline service after 737's are grounded
Boeing 737-300 48 120 (8/-/46/66)
128 (8/-/46/74)
Domestic, Canada 16 have been grounded; Exit from service 2008-2009
Boeing 737-500 20 104 (8/-/36/60)
110 (8/-/40/62)
Domestic, Canada 10 have been grounded; Exit from service 2008-2009
Boeing 747-400 22 7 347 (14/73/88/172)
New configuration
374 (12/52/70/240)
Intercontinental 1 has been grounded; Exit from service: 6 in 2008-2009
Boeing 757-200 13
p.s. 110 (12/26/72/-)
182 (24/-/50/108)
p.s. LAX-JFK and SFO-JFK
2-class domestic, Canada, Hawaii, Caribbean
Boeing 767-300ER 12
14 9
193 (10/32/47/104)
244 (34/-/64/146)
New configuration
183 (6/26/71/80)
3-class: Transatlantic, Latin America
2-class: Domestic, Hawaii
Boeing 777-200 6
348 (36/-/89/223)
258 (12/49/77/120)
New configuration
268 (8/40/[220])
3-class: Transatlantic, Latin America
2-class: Domestic, Hawaii
Launch Customer New configuration 777's to receive larger LCD screens in seat backs, along with re-designed seats in Economy
Boeing 777-200ER 17
253 (10/45/84/114)
258 (12/49/77/120)
New configuration
268 (8/40/[220])
269 (8/40/107/114)
Intercontinental (Europe, Asia, Middle East) New configuration 777's to receive larger LCD screens in seat backs, along with re-designed seats in Economy
Business class available on three class configurations.


United Airlines Retired fleet
Aircraft Year Retired Replacement Notes
Lockheed L-1011 TriStar 1989 McDonnell Douglas DC-10 Bought from Pan Am; Sold to Delta
Douglas DC-8 1992 Boeing 757-200 Largest DC-8 operator in the world
Boeing 727-100 1993 Boeing 727-200 Launch customer
Boeing 747SP 1995 Boeing 747-400 Bought from Pan Am
Boeing 747-100 1999 Boeing 777-200
McDonnell Douglas DC-10 2001 Boeing 777-200 Launch customer along with American
Boeing 747-200 2001 Boeing 747-400
Boeing 727-200 2001 Airbus A320 family
Boeing 737-200 2001
Boeing 767-200 2005 Boeing 767-300 Launch customer
Boeing 40A
Boeing 80A
Boeing 247
Boeing 377
Boeing 720
Beechcraft 1900
Convair 340
Douglas DC-3
Douglas DC-6
Douglas DC-7
Ford Tri-Motor
Sud Aviation Caravelle Boeing 737-200
British Aircraft Swallow Air Mail
Vickers Viscount
Curtiss JN-4D (Jenny)

United was the launch customer for a number of aircraft types, including the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and several Boeing aircraft: the Boeing 727 the Boeing 737-200, the Boeing 767, and the Boeing 777. Although not a launch customer, jet aircraft operated by United has included the Lockheed L-1011 (received in the Pan Am Pacific Route purchase, later traded with Delta Air Lines for the DC-10 aircraft Delta received in their merger with Western Airlines), Douglas (later McDonnell Douglas) DC-8, and Sud (later Aerospatiale) Caravelle. In 1965, United placed an order for 6 BAC/Sud (now BAe and Aerospatiale) Concordes but the order was later canceled.

United is one of only two passenger airlines in the United States to operate the Boeing 747-400, with the other being Northwest Airlines. There are several cargo airlines in the United States operating 747s.

United is the only major US airline to not have any current orders placed with any aircraft manufacturer. United has stated it would rather wait until the next generation of narrow-body aircraft arrive as they will be able to replace their A320, A319, and B757-200 fleets at the same time. United is a possible candidate to order the Boeing 787, Boeing 747-8, Airbus A380 and possibly the 777-300ER.

On April 2, 2008, United Airlines temporarily withdrew its entire fleet of 52 Boeing 777 aircraft until functional testing of the fire suppression system could be completed. The move was the latest in a series of temporary groundings by U.S. airlines in late March 2008 following a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) review of compliance with airworthiness directives.


United offers in-flight entertainment on all mainline aircraft. Audio programming is provided by XM Satellite Radio. The entire fleet features "From the Flightdeck" on channel 9. This program allows passengers to listen to live radio communications between the cockpit and Air Traffic Control. "From the Flightdeck" can be disabled at the pilot's discretion. United also has partnerships with various television networks who provide programming which is shown on shorter flights on video-equipped aircraft. The most prominent of these programming partners is NBC, which provides "NBC on United" and "NBC on Ted".

United First

  • United First Suite is offered on Boeing 747-400 and international-configured Boeing 777-200 aircraft and features 78 inch-pitch flat-bed seats which recline to 180 degrees. UnitedFirst passengers check in at separate counters and receive an invitation to the United International First Class Lounge or United Red Carpet Club. Passengers are given priority when boarding, enjoy priority baggage handling and, where available, can use premier security lines. On board, passengers enjoy a pre-flight beverage service and a five course meal on linen-dressed tray tables during the flight. Each seat has a personal video screen featuring nine channels of video (seven films and two short subjects). Passengers can select a movie from a collection of compact videocassettes. Passengers have access to personal satellite phones, laptop power ports, noise-canceling headsets, pillows and blankets. On certain Boeing 767-300 aircraft, UnitedFirst consists older recliner-style seats with 64 inches of pitch. Despite this, most other services are consistent.
  • The Upgraded United First Suite is offered on select internationally configured Boeing 767-300 and Boeing 747-400 aircraft. United plans to retrofit this new seat on its entire international fleet of Boeing 747-400, Boeing 767-300 and Boeing 777-200 aircraft. The new First Suite consists of a six foot-six inch lie-flat bed and a 15.4 inch personal LCD television.
  • United First (Domestic) is offered on all domestically configured United aircraft. Domestic United First includes a cradle seat similar to the international United Business seat, but without the personal reading lamps or personal entertainment units. The seats have a 38 inch pitch, and passengers receive priority boarding and baggage handling, pre-departure beverages, free meals and separate check-in desks.
  • United First (p.s.) is offered on most routes between JFK and SFO or LAX. and has twelve slanted-flat, leather-trimmed seats, with a 68-inch pitch, along with individual portable digital media players offering a wide selection of movies, TV shows, music and games through noise-reducing headsets. Passengers receive full meals, chocolates and signature champagne cocktails, as well as an invitation to the Red Carpet Clubs. Seats include personal reading lights, privacy screens, laptop power ports and personal satellite phones.

United Business

  • United Business is offered on all internationally configured aircraft. These recliner seats a pitch of 55 inches and 150 degree recline. The seat also features laptop power ports which require EmPower adapters. In-flight service includes pre-departure beverages, table linens and three course meals designed by chef Charlie Trotter. Passengers are also treated to priority boarding, baggage handling and access to the Red Carpet Club on day of departure. Each seat includes an individual entertainment system offering nine channels of video (seven films and two short-subjects) and noise-reducing headsets.
  • United Business Suite is offered on select internationally configured Boeing 767-300 and Boeing 747-400 aircraft. United plans to retrofit this new seat on its entire international fleet of Boeing 747-400, Boeing 767-300 and Boeing 777-200 aircraft. All seats are 6 feet-4 inches long and have 180 degrees of recline, creating a fully-flat bed. United Business Suite is the first truly lie-flat business seat to be offered by a U.S. airline. Business Suite passengers receive identical service to passengers in conventional United Business. All seats are equipped with a personal 15.4-inch screen personal LCD television, an adjustable headrest, lumbar support, a USB power port, an Apple iPod adapter (to play audio through), XM Satellite Radio, a power-port, a reading light, noise-cancelling headphones and a large tray table.
  • United Business (p.s.) offers twenty-six leather recliner seats with 54 inch pitch, individual portable digital media players with a wide selection of video choices and noise-reducing headsets, menus including chocolates and champagne, cocktails, reading lights and laptop power ports.

United Economy

  • United Economy (International) is available on all internationally configured aircraft in United's fleet. Seats range from 17 to 18 inches wide, and have 31 inches of pitch. All United Economy seats on Boeing 767 and 777 aircraft feature an adjustable headrest and personal LCD television in the seatback. Boeing 747s do not feature seatback television. United Economy's in-flight entertainment system features nine channels of entertainment, and will be updated in the future to an audio visual on demand system (AVOD). The Boeing 747-400 features overhead monitors throughout the aircraft and projection screens on the bulkheads. United serves free meals on international flights between the US, South America, Europe, the South Pacific and Asia. Shortly after takeoff, passengers are served cocktail snacks and free non-alcoholic drinks. On flights with meals, the main meal consists of a salad, an appetizer, a choice of hot entrées and dessert. On longer flights, United also offers a light pre-arrival meal.

  • United Economy (Domestic) is available on all aircraft in United's mainline fleet. Seats range from 17 to 18 inches wide, and have between 31 and 32 inches of pitch. Economy seats on all A319, A320, 757, 767, and 777 aircraft feature adjustable headrests. All 737 aircraft feature last-generation seats lacking headrests. On United flights between 3 and 5 hours in duration, snackboxes are available for $5. On United flights of 5 or more hours, fresh sandwiches and salads, as well as snackbox options are also available for $7. Water, soft drinks, and coffee are available for free on all flights. Alcoholic beverages are available for $5 on most flights, selections vary upon departure city. All A319, A320, 757, 767, and 777 aircraft feature overhead television screens. Short subject television program is shown on flights between 1.5 and 2.5 hours and films are shown on flights over 3 hours.
  • Economy Plus is available on all aircraft in the domestic and international fleet. Economy Plus seats are located in the front 6-12 rows of the economy cabin and feature between 4 and 6 inches of added legroom. Economy Plus is available for free to all Mileage Plus Premier members. It can also be purchased at booking or check-in depending upon availability. Domestic Economy Plus upgrades cost from $14 to $65 depending on the distance travelled (e.g. Boston to Washington/Dulles - $17; Boston to Chicago - $39; Boston to Los Angeles - $59).

Mileage Plus

Frequent flier programs started in their current form in 1981. United began one week after American Airlines started the first program. United's program is called Mileage Plus.

Airlines who are part of the Star Alliance, such as Air Canada, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, and others participate in a program enabling passengers on these airlines to receive Mileage Plus credits.

Elite level membership, which has added benefits over the standard level membership, is a feature that was not initially part of the program.

Premier Associate (3P) is a new elite level created in 2006 that can be gifted by elite members as a reward for reaching certain plateaus. Privileges are much like Premier members and get access to Economy Plus seating, but does not include the 500-mile e-upgrades or the 25% mileage bonus on flown miles.

Premier (2P) members, who accumulate at least 25,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) or fly 30 segments, are offered priority boarding, free access to Economy Plus seating, upgrade privileges from any fare, complementary 500-mile e-upgrades and a 25% mileage bonus on flown miles. In 2005, 535,000 members of Mileage Plus qualified for Premier status.

Premier Executive (1P) members fly at least 50,000 EQM or 60 segments, and receive all Premier benefits plus a 100% mileage bonus, higher upgrade priority, access to exit row seating in advance of flight, and lounge access when traveling internationally on any Star Alliance member airline the same day. In 2005, 239,000 members of Mileage Plus qualified for Premier Executive status.

1K (also known as Premier Executive 1K) members fly at least 100,000 EQMs or 100 segments, and receive all Premier Executive benefits plus six free System-wide Upgrades good for a one-class upgrade anywhere United flies, along with the ability to earn confirmed regional upgrades valid across United's North and Latin American route system. 1K passengers are also granted accommodations and meals during flight delays and irregular operations caused by weather or air traffic control. In 2005, 46,000 members of Mileage Plus qualified for 1K status.

Global Services, while not officially part of the Mileage Plus program, is an invitation-only program to recognize United's most valued high-yield customers. Full invitation criteria are not made public by United; re-qualification for current UGS members could be attained by flying 50,000 full-fare miles in a calendar year, according to company letter to members.. Benefits complement and expand upon those offered to 1K passengers, including: higher priority for upgrades and front-of-line access in premium security lines. Global Services members are able to upgrade award flights using miles, system-wide upgrades, confirmed regional upgrades and 500 mile upgrade certificates. In 2005, 18,000 members of Mileage Plus qualified for Global Services membership.

Million Miles and Beyond, is a program offered to Mileage Plus members who have flown one million miles or more on United Airlines during their lifetime. These customers permanently receive the benefits of Premier Executive members.

Red Carpet Club

The Red Carpet Club is United Airlines' airport lounge. It includes 40 lounges in 34 major airports around the world. Club membership is available to the public for an annual fee, and includes access to all Red Carpet Clubs along with reciprocal access to US Airways Clubs and Star Alliance Gold lounges when traveling on those carriers. Premier, Premier Executive and 1K members of Mileage Plus are offered discounted membership options.


Codeshare agreements

In addition to its Star Alliance and United Express partnerships, United codeshares with the following airlines as of December 2007 :

United also has marketing agreements with the following airlines:

Incidents and accidents

1930s NC13304
1940s Flight 14 Flight 28 Flight 404 Flight 521 Flight 608 Flight 624
1950s Flight 129 Flight 610 Flight 615 Flight 7030 Flight 16 Flight 409 Flight 629 Flight 718 Flight 736
1960s Flight 826 Flight 859 Flight 297 Flight 823 Flight 389 Flight 227 Flight 266
1970s Flight 553 Flight 2860 Flight 173
1980s Flight 811 Flight 232
1990s Flight 585 Flight 863
2000s Flight 175 Flight 93

In popular culture

  • Tom Hanks' character Viktor Navorski is stuck at New York's JFK airport in the United terminal in The Terminal (2004). Viktor flew into JFK on a United 747, and the woman he falls for, played by Catherine Zeta Jones, is a flight attendant for United. He is also seen trying to enter the Red Carpet Club.
  • A Boeing 757 traveling from Newark, New Jersey to San Francisco, California on the morning of September 11, 2001, was the focus of 2006's United 93.


United adopted a red, white and blue shield logo in 1936, but its use varied widely and was eventually abandoned altogether in the early 1970s. In 1974, the airline commissioned designer Saul Bass to develop a new logo. The "tulip" logo of colored stripes representing overlapping letter "U"s remains in use today with only slight modification.

The early slogan "The Main Line Airway," emphasizing its signature New York-Chicago-San Francisco route, was replaced in 1965 with "Fly the Friendly Skies." The "friendly skies" tagline was used until 1996. The current slogan and ad campaign since 2004, is "It's time to fly." Other United Slogans include:

  • "The Great White Way to New York" (1971-1972)
  • "The Friendly Skies of your land" (also known as "Mother Country") (1972-1976)
  • "You're the boss" (1976-1977), "United we fly" (1977-1978)
  • "That's what friendly skies are all about" (1980)
  • "You're not just flying, you're flying the Friendly Skies" (mid 1980s)
  • "From the ground up, rededicated to giving you the service you deserve. Come fly the friendly skies" (Late 1980s)
  • "Come fly the airline that's uniting the world. Come fly the Friendly Skies" (late 1980s)
  • "Come fly our Friendly Skies" (The early ESOP years)
  • "United Rising" during the mid 1990s
  • "Feel United ... Be United ... Worlds United ... Stay United ... United (the late 1990s)
  • "It's important for the human race to stay United"
  • "Life is a journey travel it well; United"
  • "We Are United" following the September 11 incident
  • "Relax, Stretch Out" with the rollout of EconomyPlus
  • "It's time to fly" for the animation commercials (voiced over by Robert Redford), banners, and magazine advertisements of the "It's Time to Fly" campaign first unveiled during Super Bowl XXXVIII. (2004 present). The campaign was reintroduced in August of 2008 when United premiered 5 new TV commercials during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

United's theme song is George Gershwin's 1924 "Rhapsody in Blue", which it licensed from Gershwin's estate for $500,000 in 1976. "Rhapsody" would have entered the public domain in 2000, but the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 extended its copyright another 20 years.

See also


External links

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