10 Ways the New United/Continental Airline Merger Will Change Consumer Air Travel

What Will the United/Continental Airlines Merger Mean to You?

The merger between United and Continental to create the world’s largest airline was approved in October 2010, and continues to move forward quickly. United experienced 15% year-over-year growth in passenger revenue from May 2010 to May 2011, and this is considered a good sign for the success of the merger, which should be complete by the end of 2011.

So, how will this “super airline” influence air travel for the rest of us? Here are 10 things to get on your radar.

  • Continental aircraft will be fitted with Economy Plus seating starting in 2012. Good news: look for more spacious seats near the front of the economy cabin, offering up to five extra inches of legroom.
    • Passengers with both Mileage Plus (United) and OnePass (Continental) accounts can now link the two, to combine miles and earn rewards faster. For now, those with OnePass accounts should book reservations on either Continental or United using their OnePass membership number.
    • Passengers belonging to only one of the airlines’ frequent flyer programs will become automatically enrolled in both. The new merged airline will align both programs over the next year, which will likely mean faster rewards, especially for frequent travelers.
    • United Premier and Continental Elite members will now receive reciprocal benefits traveling on either airline. The Million Mile Program and the Lifetime Elite benefits will merge into a single program by the end of 2011, and members of both will continue to receive their benefits.
    • United and Continental passengers will continue to earn and use miles as usual during the transition. Miles, upgrades, and frequent flyer status will remain the same as the two companies align their programs.
    • Continental recently discontinued their partnership with American Express, effective September 30, 2011. If you’re an American Express cardholder and want to transfer or redeem points with Continental, you should do so before September 30.
    • No increases in extra fees. Fees like the $150 change fee for domestic flights, the $250 change fee for international flights, and $25 baggage fees are already the same for United and Continental, so passengers shouldn’t receive any surprises there.
    • Check-in kiosks at major airports have been reprogrammed to process both United and Continental passengers. Over the next year, all airport check-in kiosks will be reprogrammed.
    • An estimated 500 jobs in the Houston area are expected to go away, with 1,300 new jobs going to Chicago. How many of those will be filled by transferees from Houston is not yet known. Currently the combined carriers employ 16,000 people in the Houston area.
    • Expect higher ticket prices. Unfortunately, mergers in the airline industry have resulted in less competition, which tends to send ticket prices higher. Prices ultimately depend on a variety of factors, including consumer demand and crude oil prices, but you’ll always be able to find the lowest airfares here.

    Other Effects of the United/Continental Merger

    The merged airline will be called United, and planes are now being painted with new stylized branding with the Continental globe logo along with the United colors. While there is no confirmation, it appears that the website of the merged airline will more heavily resemble Continental’s current website and online booking system.

    United says that all existing hubs will remain after the merger, and all cities currently served will continue to be served. A single operating certificate for the airline should be issued by the end of 2011, according to United spokesperson Mike Trevino.


    Published: June 20, 2011