United Airlines is one of the main American carriers and its 2010 merger with Continental Airlines has made it the biggest airline in the world. It belongs to the biggest airline alliance in the world, the Star Alliance, and it was one of the alliance founding members in 1997. United also has a regional service called United Express.
The airline’s main hub is the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston but it also has hubs in several other cities in the US. Other major United hubs include the O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, the Denver International Airport and the San Francisco International Airport.
The History of the United Airlines
United has a reputation as the oldest commercial airline in the US. Its origins are in the Varney Airlines air mail service, started by Walter Varney in Boise, Idaho in 1926. Varney was also the founder of Continental Airlines. The first Varney Airlines flight between Boise, Idaho and Pasco, Washington on 5 April 1926 is seen as the beginning of the United Airlines. It was also the first schedule flight in US.
In 1927 Varney Airlines was bought by William Boeing, the founder of Boeing Air Transport. Boeing then merged with Pratt & Whiney and formed the United Aircraft and Transport Corporation in 1929. By 1933 the company was offering direct flights across the USA on a Boeing 247. The company was later divided into a manufacturing division and the actual airline, United Air Lines.
United planes were used during World War II to transport passengers, goods and mail, but also modified to be used as bombers. As air travel grew after the war, United’s business kept growing with it. The growth continued for years. In 1961 the airline merged with Capital Airlines and became one of the biggest airlines in the world at the time. The continued growth of more than two decades eventually stopped in the 1970s and the company also suffered from the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978.
The early 1990s saw a major expansion for the corporation as United Airlines took over important routes from the US to the Heathrow Airport in London, UK in 1991. However the increase in budget airlines led to another period of downturn for the company soon after the expansion. In 1994 United Airlines became the world’s biggest employee-owned company with the Employee Stock Ownership Plan. This meant that pilots, bag handlers and machinists took over 55% of the airline’s stock in exchange for a salary cut. In 1994 United started its own low-cost sister airline, Shuttle by United, that operated until 2001. United started commercial flights on the Boeing 777 in 1995, the first airline in the world to do so.
The worldwide airline industry experienced significant problems after the attacks on 9/11/2001. Two of the planes that were hijacked on 9/11 had been United Airlines planes and the company suffered major losses. In 2002 the UAL corporation filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The Employee Stock Ownership Plan came to an end, thousands of workers were laid off, ticket offices were closed and routes were cancelled. The company then started a new budget airline called Ted (that operated until 2008) and a new luxury service that operated on domestic routes in the US. In 2005 United cancelled its pension plan. In 2005 the company managed to exit its bankruptcy.
In 2010 United Airlines and Continental Airlines agreed upon a merger. The airline continued to fly under the United Airlines name but the corporation was headed by Jess Smisek, the Continental CEO. This new airline became the biggest airline in the world.
Main Hubs and the Fleet
Today United has 702 aircraft in its fleet. Three quarters of the fleet are Boeing and the rest are Airbus. The airline flies to 41 international destinations and 73 destinations in the US. The international destinations are located in 25 different countries around the world. Together with its partners in the Star Alliance the airline connects to six continents.
United is now placing an increasing focus on international flights including flights to Shanghai and other Asian destinations, as well as Central and South America. The domestic network focuses on the western US and on the Midwest. United Airlines also has a significant presence on routes to Hawaii.