Airline Spotlight: Continental Airlines

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Photo credit: Pieter van Marion
Photo credit: Pieter van Marion

Continental Airlines was once one of the largest airlines in the United States. The company dates back to 1934, when it was founded as Varney Speed Lines in Boise, Idaho. Varney Speed Lines operated passenger and airmail services throughout America’s Southwest. It wasn’t until 1937 that the company acquired the name Continental Airlines, and the airline’s headquarters was relocated to Denver Union Airport. The name was chosen to reflect the company’s desire to serve all of the United States.

By 1946, Continental Airlines was flying from Denver to Kansas City, Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Flights also traveled from Albuquerque and El Paso to San Antonio. The company continued to grow throughout the late ‘40s and ‘50s, and in 1955, Continental merged with Pioneer Airlines, allowing the company to access more cities throughout America, including Chicago, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles and others.

The 1960s brought about even more changes and uphill growth for the company. The chairman-CEO of Continental Airlines, Robert F. Six, became a leading advocate of lower fares for passengers. Continental shocked the industry when they released their economy fare from Chicago to Los Angeles in 1962. In 1963, the headquarters of Continental Airlines moved from Denver to Los Angeles.

Photo credit: Pieter van Marion
Photo credit: Pieter van Marion

Continental continued to grow and enjoy route expansions throughout the ‘70s, but the 1980s brought hardship. Airline deregulations ignited a number of hostile merges, and the 1982 merge of Continental with Texas International Airlines was one of them. Despite the difficulties, Continental’s fleet of over 100 aircrafts began serving more international destinations including South America and Asia in addition to New Zealand and Australia.

The airline unveiled an updated blue and gray scheme and new globe logo in the early 1990s. The look is one that the company kept until Continental Airlines was dissolved and adopted by United Airlines in 2012. Continental’s rankings in the airline industry were low in the early 1990s, but when former Boeing executive, Gordon Bethune, took the reins in 1994, the airline took a turn for the better. A company that was failing years earlier, soon won more J.D. Power and Associates awards for Customer Satisfaction than any other airline. Continental was ranked the No. 1 Most Admired Global Airline in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Despite years of resistance to merger talks with United Airlines, on May 2, 2010, the Board of Directors at United Airways and Continental approved a deal that combined the two into the world’s largest airline in terms of revenue passenger miles. The new airline took on the Continental logo but kept the United Airlines name. The company then moved to United’s headquarters in Chicago, Ill.

Photo credit: Aero Icarus
Photo credit: Aero Icarus

On Oct. 19, 2011, Continental Airlines’ Newark hub began a rebranding process. In Phase One of the process, all United-operated gates and ticket counters were rebranded. The Continental-operated gates and counters were rebranded in Phase Two. On Nov. 30, 2011, Continental Airlines officially merged with United Airlines and ceased to operate as a separate airline. A single operating certificate was acquired, and all flights took on the United Airlines callsign; although, some Continental flights continued until the company was dissolved in 2012.

About the Author: Courtney McCaffrey

Courtney McCaffrey is a freelance writer and editor based in Wilmington, N.C. In addition to writing, she lives for travel - seeing new places, learning new cultures and surfing new waves.

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