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United Airlines
United Airlines

United Airlines, Inc. is a major American airline headquartered at Willis Tower in Chicago, Illinois.[13][14][15] United operates a large domestic and international route network, with an extensive presence in the Asia-Pacific region.[16] It is a founding member of the Star Alliance, the world's largest airline alliance with a total of 28 member airlines.[17] Regional service is operated by independent carriers under the brand name United Express. United was established by the amalgamation of several airlines in the late 1920s, the oldest of these being Varney Air Lines, which was founded in 1926.[1]

United has eight hubs, with Chicago–O'Hare being its largest in terms of passengers carried and the number of departures.[18] The company employs over 86,000 people.[12] Through the airline's parent company, United Airlines Holdings, it is publicly traded under NYSE: UAL [146] with a market capitalization of over US$21 billion as of January 2018.[19]

History


United traces its roots to Varney Air Lines (VAL), which Walter Varney founded in 1926 in Boise, Idaho. Continental Airlines is the successor to Speed Lanes, which Varney had founded by 1932 and whose name changed to Varney Speed Lines in 1934. VAL flew the first privately contracted air mail flight in the U.S. on April 6, 1926.[20][21][22]

In 1927, William Boeing founded Boeing Air Transport to operate air mail routes under contract with the United States Post Office Department.[23] In 1929, Boeing merged his company with Pratt & Whitney to form the United Aircraft and Transport Corporation (UATC) which then set about buying, in the space of just 28 months, Pacific Air Transport, Stout Air Services, VAL, and National Air Transport, as well as numerous equipment manufacturers at the same time.[24][25] On March 28, 1931, UATC formed United Air Lines, Inc. as a holding company for its airline subsidiaries.[26]

In late 2006, Continental Airlines and United had preliminary merger discussions.[27][28] On April 16, 2010, those discussions resumed.[29] The board of directors of Continental and UAL Corporation agreed on May 2, 2010, to combine operations, contingent upon shareholder and regulatory approval. On October 1, 2010, the UAL Corporation changed its name to United Continental Holdings, Inc.[30] The carriers planned to begin merging their operations in 2011.[31] The merged airline began operating under a single air operator's certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration on November 30, 2011.[32] On March 3, 2012, United and Continental merged their passenger service systems, frequent-flier programs, and websites, which virtually eliminated the Continental brand with the exception of its logo.[33] On Thursday June 27, 2019, the parent company's name changed from United Continental Holdings to United Airlines Holdings.[34]

Destinations and hubs


United operates to 231 destinations and 125 international destinations in 48 countries across five continents.[12]

United currently operates eight hubs within the United States and its territories. [4]

  • Chicago–O'Hare – United's largest hub and its hub for the Midwest. United flies approximately 36 million passengers through O'Hare every year, which is about 99,000 people per day, making it also the busiest airline at the airport.[35] United's corporate headquarters are also in Chicago.
  • Denver – United's fourth largest hub and its hub for the Rocky Mountain region of the United States.[36] In 2017, United flew approximately 25.9 million passengers through DIA or about 71,000 people per day.[36] As of December 2017, United has about 42% of the market share at DIA making it the airport's largest airline.
  • Guam - Inherited through the merger with Continental, Guam serves as United's hub for flight routes in the Pacific region.[4] United has about 98.8% of the market share at Guam International, making it by far the largest airline at the airport. About 313,000 passengers flew through Guam between June 2018 and May 2019 on United, which is about 858 people per day.[37]
  • Houston–Intercontinental – Inherited through the merger with Continental, Houston-Intercontinental serves as United's second largest hub and its hub for the Southern United States. It is the primary gateway to Latin America.[38] About 33.5 million passengers fly through Houston on United every year, or about 91,000 people per day.[38] United currently has about 78% of the seat share at Bush, making it the airport's largest tenant.[39]
  • Los Angeles – United's secondary hub for the West Coast and gateway to Asia and Australia.[40] About 10 million passengers fly through LAX on United every year, or about 28,000 people per day.[40] United has 15% of the market share at LAX, making it the third-biggest carrier at the airport.[41]
  • Newark – Inherited through the merger with Continental, Newark is United's third largest hub and its primary hub for the New York City market and the Eastern Coast of the United States. It is United's primary gateway to Europe, while including other select flights to Latin America and Asia.[42] About 28.5 million passengers fly on United through Newark every year, or about 78,000 people per day. United controls about 81% of the slots at Newark and carries about 68% of all passengers at the airport.[43][44] United controls all of Terminal C and also uses part of Terminal A for United Express.
  • San Francisco – United's fifth largest hub and its primary hub for the West Coast and gateway to Asia and Australia.[45] About 22 million passengers pass through SFO every year on United, which is about 60,000 people per day.[45] United has about 46% of the market share at San Francisco International, making it the biggest airline at the airport.[46]
  • Washington–Dulles – United's secondary hub for the East Coast and gateway to Europe.[47] United has about 65% of the market share at Washington Dulles, making it the largest airline at the airport.[48] About 14 million passengers fly through Dulles every year on United, which is about 38,465 people per day.[47]

Alliance and codeshare agreements


United Airlines is a member of the Star Alliance and has codeshare agreements with the following airlines:[49]

In addition to the above codeshares, United has also entered into joint ventures with the following airlines:

Fleet


As of March 2019, United Airlines operated a fleet of 778 aircraft; all Boeing and Airbus.[51]

On July 20, 2011, American Airlines announced an order for 460 narrowbody jets, including 260 Airbus A320s.[52] The order broke Boeing's monopoly with the airline and forced Boeing to proceed with plans for the re-engined 737 MAX.[53] The contract with American included a Most-Favoured-Customer Clause, which requires Airbus to refund to American any difference between the price paid by American and the price paid by United or another airline, if lower. The clause acts to perpetuate United having a Boeing-skewed fleet.[54]

On September 22, 2012, United became the first American airline to take delivery of Boeing 787 aircraft.[55] United is also the North American launch customer for the Boeing 787-9[56] and 787-10 aircraft,[57] which are stretched versions of the base 787-8 model, delivered at launch.

In May 2018, United planned to replace its 51 Boeing 767s in a deal potentially worth $14 billion at list prices, and was in talks with both Airbus and Boeing, for their A330neo and 787.[58] United operates 128 757s and 767s (77 B757s and 51 B767s), the second-largest combined fleet after Delta Air Lines with 206 (127 757s and 79 767s). Both have to replace them, and as with American’s smaller numbers of these planes, they could be replaced by 737 MAX 10s, A321neos, Boeing NMAs, 787-8s or A330-800neos.[59]

Cabin


These seats can be found on all Boeing 787 aircraft, Boeing 767-400 aircraft, Boeing 757-200, and select Boeing 777-200ER aircraft.

United Polaris Business passengers check in at separate counters and can use priority security screening where available. On international flights, in-flight services include pre-departure beverages, table linens and multi course meals designed in partnership with Charlie Trotter-affiliated chefs via the airline's partnership with the Trotter Project.[60] Passengers are also given priority with boarding and baggage handling and access to the United Polaris Lounge where available, as well as the United Club and partner airline lounges when traveling on international routes. All Polaris Business seats recline 180 degrees into a full, flat bed. On select Boeing 777-200ER and Boeing 767-300ER aircraft, the seats alternate facing forward and backwards. On the Boeing 787, Boeing 767-400, Boeing 757-200 and select Boeing 767-300ER and Boeing 777-200ER aircraft, all seats face forward.[61][62]

Other domestic routes, especially hub-to-hub service and certain non "United p.s." transcontinental flights, regularly see internationally configured aircraft with United Polaris Business seating for operational reasons (such as transferring international aircraft from one hub to another). While the physical seats and entertainment are the same as on international flights, the service, catering and other amenities are the same as in domestic first class. Unlike routes marketed as United p.s., these flights are eligible for complimentary premier upgrades.[63]

On June 2, 2016, United introduced its new, redesigned international business class seat that will replace current business class seats. The new United Polaris Business seat will be featured on Airbus A350-900, Boeing 777-300ER, and Boeing 787-10 aircraft, and will be retrofitted later on Boeing 767, Boeing 777-200ER, and Boeing 787 aircraft. The Polaris seat converts into a 6' 6" flat bed in a 1-2-1 configuration or a 1-1-1 configuration, providing all-aisle access for every seat. The seat boasts multiple storage areas, mood lighting, multiple charging ports, lumbar support, and improved dining and amenity services.[64]

United Premium Plus will be United's premium economy product, to be installed through 2020 on wide-body international aircraft. United Premium Plus seating will offer more space, comfort and amenities compared to United Economy or Economy Plus, and will offer upgraded dining on china dinnerware, free alcoholic beverages, a Saks Fifth Avenue blanket and pillow, an amenity kit and more. United expects the first aircraft with these seats to be flying by mid-2018, with the full service launch in 2019. During the interim period, United will likely sell these seats as part of Economy Plus.[65]

United premium transcontinental service is offered on transcontinental flights between Newark and Los Angeles or San Francisco and between Boston and San Francisco. Previously branded as p.s. (short for "Premium Service") when initially launched in 2004, through 2017, these flights utilize primarily Boeing 757-200s, with 180-degrees-flat Polaris Business seats. The premium cabin also features international style catering, while all seats have access to inflight wi-fi, on demand entertainment, and power outlets. Business class passengers also have access to the United Club at Newark, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.[66]

All premium transcontinental flights were moved from New York JFK to Newark Liberty Airport on October 25, 2015.[67]

These routes are not eligible for Complimentary Premier upgrades, although MileagePlus members can upgrade using Regional Premier Upgrades, Global Premier Upgrades, or MileagePlus award miles.[68]

Since July 2017, passengers in this class get a complimentary hot entree, dessert, fruit, pre-arrival snack, and alcoholic beverages.[69]

United First is offered on all domestically configured aircraft. When such aircraft are used on international services such as services to Canada, Central America and the Caribbean destinations, this cabin is branded as United Business. United First seats on narrowbody aircraft have a 38-inch (97 cm) seat pitch, while United First seats on re-configured domestic Boeing 777-200 aircraft feature fully flat bed seats. Passengers receive priority boarding and baggage handling, pre-departure beverages, complimentary meals and separate check-in desks.[70]

In 2015, United released its new domestic first class seat design. The new leather seats feature cradling headrests, granite cocktail tables, and a tablet stand. These seats will debut on Airbus A319 and Airbus A320 aircraft, and will eventually be installed on all domestic aircraft.[71]

United Economy Plus is available on all aircraft. Economy Plus seats are located in the front few rows and exit rows of the economy cabin and have 2 inches (5.1 cm) more recline and at least 5 to 6 inches (13 to 15 cm) of additional seat pitch totaling 4 to 7 inches (10 to 18 cm) of recline (aircraft dependent) and 35 to 37 inches (89 to 94 cm) of pitch. Economy Plus is complimentary for all MileagePlus Premier members. Premier 1K, Platinum and Gold members may select an Economy Plus seat when booking, while silver members can select an Economy Plus seat at check-in.[72] It can also be purchased depending upon availability by other passengers.

Prior to the merger between United and Continental, United Airlines aircraft offered Economy Plus, while Continental did not. Following the merger, Economy Plus was rolled out across the combined fleet.[73]

United Economy is available on all aircraft, and usually have a pitch of 31 inches (30 inches on aircraft refurbished with Slimline seats, and 32 inches on Boeing 787s) and a recline of 2–5 inches. All economy seats feature an adjustable headrest and some form of entertainment, ranging from AVOD, inflight wi-fi, personal device entertainment, or overhead entertainment. Economy seats on Boeing 767, Boeing 777, Boeing 787, and select renovated 757-200 aircraft feature a personal 7-inch (18 cm) touchscreen television at the back of each seat with United Private Screening. Select Boeing 757-300 and select Boeing 737 aircraft feature overhead entertainment. On Airbus A319, A320, select Boeing 737, select Boeing 757-300, select 757-200 and domestically configured Boeing 777 aircraft feature personal device entertainment, and WiFi. Other Boeing 737 and Boeing 757-300 aircraft feature DirecTV.[74] In April 2018, United upgraded all aircraft with over 70 seats to include Wi-Fi and personal device entertainment even with DirecTV equipped.[75]

Food and snacks are available for purchase on domestic, Caribbean, and some Latin America flights. These include snacks, fresh meals, and snack boxes, depending on flight time and distance. Meals are complimentary on all other international flights. Only beverages are complimentary in economy on North America flights. Alcoholic beverages are available for purchase on North America flights, but are complimentary on long-haul international flights.[76] On flights where meals are served, a cocktail snack with a beverage is served shortly after takeoff, followed by a main course, then dessert. Longer international flights feature a pre-arrival meal, which usually consists of a light breakfast or snack. United announced that it would offer free snacks on domestic, Caribbean, and Latin America flights, which began in February 2016.[77]

Basic Economy is available on select routes and in addition to standard fares. Intended to be United's lowest fare, Basic Economy fares provide most of the same inflight services and amenities with standard United Economy Class.[78] With Basic Economy, group/family seating, seat selection/upgrades and bringing full-sized carry-on bags are not allowed. When booking online, it is clearly marked - with a user prompt to confirm the user is booking a Basic Economy fare. Users also have the option to pay a small fee to upgrade their booking to regular Economy. Also, certain MileagePlus and Premier member benefits are not available.[79]

Reward services


MileagePlus is the frequent flyer program for United Airlines.[80]

United Club is the airline lounge associated with United Airlines and United Express carriers. The United Club replaced the former United Red Carpet Club and Continental Airlines Presidents Club prior to United Airlines' merger with Continental.[81]

Corporate affairs


In 2007, United moved its headquarters and 350 top executives from Elk Grove Township, a suburb of Chicago, to 77 West Wacker Drive in the Chicago Loop[82] after receiving US$5.5 million in incentives from the City of Chicago.[83] The Elk Grove campus became an operations center after several of United's offices in suburban Chicago were consolidated there.[84]

In 2010, United accepted the City of Chicago's offer of US$35 million in incentives, including a US$10 million grant, for United to move its remaining 2,500 employees out of Elk Grove Township to the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in the Chicago Loop.[83] On May 31, 2012, United opened its operations center, which occupied twelve floors of the Willis Tower.[85]

In 2019 United renewed its lease, originally ending in 2028 and now set to expire in 2033, and it will construct a roof deck and a 30,000-square-foot (2,800 m2) dining hall on the fourth floor.[86]

The Elk Grove Township former headquarters campus was gradually annexed into the Village of Mount Prospect,[87][88] and serves as an IT operations facility, with a new 172,000 square foot (16,000 m2) data center constructed in 2013.[89] United maintains a large presence in downtown Houston, having leased 225,000 sq ft (20,900 m2) of space (seven floors) for occupancy in late 2017.[90]

United has training facilities for its flight crews in Denver and Houston, a major aircraft maintenance center in San Francisco, and call centers in Houston and Chicago.

United formerly owned the Waikiki Seaside Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii which was used by its flight crews until it was sold in February 2012.[91]

The pre-merger United logo, commonly nicknamed the "tulip", was developed in the early 1970s after the airline commissioned designer Saul Bass to develop a new brand image.[92] The logo represented the airline's monogram as well as a modernized version of the airline's shield logo[93] which had been adopted in the 1930s, but fell out of use by the late 1960s. The ribbon-like rendering has also been said to symbolize the motion of flight.[94]

United's earliest slogan, "The Main Line Airway", emphasized its signature New York-Chicago-San Francisco route, and was replaced in 1965 with "Fly the Friendly Skies". The "friendly skies" tagline was in use until 1996 in its first iteration.[95] The "It's time to fly" slogan was created in 2004. After the merger of United and Continental in October 2010, the slogan changed to "Let's fly together" until September 2013.[95] On September 20, 2013, United announced a return of the "Fly the Friendly Skies" slogan in an ad campaign to start the following day.[96] The resurrected slogan would be accompanied by the 1924 George Gershwin song "Rhapsody in Blue" as its theme song, and a voiceover provided by Matt Damon.[95]

United licensed its theme song, "Rhapsody in Blue", from Gershwin's estate for US$500,000 (equivalent to $2,201,462 in 2018) in 1976.[97] "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. United announced that it would continue to use "Rhapsody in Blue" as its theme song following the merger with Continental.[98]

Because over 98 percent of United's greenhouse gas emissions are from jet fuel, its environmental strategy has focused on operational fuel efficiency initiatives and investments in sustainably produced, low-carbon alternative fuels.[99]

On August 23, 2011, United Continental Holdings, Inc. announced a conversion to paperless flight decks, and projected that by the end of the year, 11,000 iPads will have been deployed to all United and Continental pilots. Each iPad, which weighs less than 1.5 pounds (0.68 kg), will replace approximately 38 pounds (17 kg) of paper operating manuals, navigation charts, reference handbooks, flight checklists, logbooks, and weather information. The green benefits include reductions in paper use, printing, and fuel consumption.[100]

On November 7, 2011, United flew the world's first commercial aviation flight on a microbially-derived biofuel. The aircraft was fueled with 40 percent Solajet, which is Solazyme's algae-derived renewable jet fuel, and 60 percent petroleum-derived jet fuel. This flight was operated by the Eco-Skies Boeing 737-800 aircraft from Houston to Chicago-O'Hare.[101]

On January 15, 2013, Aviation Partners Boeing (APB), a joint venture between Aviation Partners Inc. and Boeing, announced that United had agreed to replace the Blended Winglets on its Boeing Next Generation 737 aircraft with APB's Split Scimitar Winglet (SSW), significantly reducing drag. Once the SSWs are installed, it is estimated that APB's winglet technology will save United more than $250 million annually in fuel costs.[102]

On June 30, 2015, United invested US$30 million in Fulcrum BioEnergy, an alternative fuel company. Fulcrum's alternative fuel is produced through a clean and efficient thermochemical process and reduces lifecycle carbon emissions by more than 80 percent. As part of its investment, United will work with Fulcrum to develop up to five alternative fuel refineries near its U.S. hubs. These refineries will produce up to 180 million gallons of sustainable aviation alternative fuel per year, and United will have the opportunity to purchase at least 90 million gallons per year for a minimum of 10 years, making it the largest aviation alternative fuel commitment to date.[103]

On March 11, 2016, United became the first airline in the world to fly on commercial-scale quantities of such fuels on a continuous basis, which were procured from AltAir Fuels. This fuel was produced from sustainable feedstocks such as non-edible natural oils and agricultural wastes, and is expected to provide a greater than 60 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions on a lifecycle basis when compared to traditional jet fuel. United has agreed to purchase up to 15 million gallons of sustainable alternative fuel from AltAir Fuels for use in Los Angeles over a three-year period.[104]

In 2016, United began partnering with Clean the World to repurpose items from the airline's international premium class amenity kits and donate the hygiene products to those in critical need. Clean the World provides hygiene education and soap to promote handwashing, which helps prevent hygiene-related deaths. During the first year of this partnership, United expected to divert 60,000 pounds (27,200 kg) of material that otherwise would have gone to landfills.[105]

In 2017 United started a partnership with Audubon International to protect raptors—including hawks, ospreys and owls—in and around New York-area airports and resettle the birds-of-prey at suitable golf course habitats where the species are more likely to thrive.[106]

All United Airlines pilots are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association. A new Joint Collective Bargaining Agreement was ratified by a majority of the United/Continental pilots on December 15, 2012,[107][108] which struck down a scope clause that disallowed Continental from outsourcing the flying of regional jets with 70 or more passenger seats.[109]

In 2013, after pressure from PETA, United announced that it would no longer transport monkeys to laboratories. United was the last North American passenger airline to transport these animals to laboratories.[110][111] United flies more animals and has longer flight stage length than any other US airline, and accounted for one third of animal deaths of US airlines between 2012 and 2017.[112]

Effective March 20, 2018, the PetSafe program was suspended with no new reservations for cargo transport of pets accepted.[113] This came after United announced plans to mark pet carriers in the passenger cabin with bright tags[114] and legislation was introduced in the United States House of Representatives[115] and United States Senate banning the placement of pets in overhead compartments.[116] This was in response to a dog death after a passenger placed it in the overhead compartment following flight attendant instructions, but the flight attendant denied knowing that the luggage contained a dog.[117]

United awarded airline miles as "bug bounties" to hackers who could identify gaps in the carrier's web security. Two hackers have each been rewarded with 1 million miles of air travel as of July 15, 2015. This cyber security program was announced a few weeks before the company experienced two software glitches. The first incident delayed 150 United flights on June 2 due to a problem with its flight dispatching system. Six days later, United's reservation system delayed flights by not allowing passengers to check in. In addition to the "bug bounty" program, United said it tests systems internally and engages cybersecurity firms.[118][119]

In February 2019, privacy concerns arose after it emerged that United had installed cameras in some seat backs. United said that the cameras were "not activated", but journalists reported that malicious hackers could still potentially enable the cameras to spy on passengers.[120][121][122][123][124]

Accidents and incidents


On the evening of April 9, 2017, a revenue passenger was forcibly removed by law enforcement from United Airlines flight 3411 at Chicago-O'Hare, bound for Louisville.[129] United announced that it needed four seats for airline staff on the sold-out flight.[130] When no passengers volunteered after being offered vouchers worth $800, United staff selected four passengers to leave. Three of them did so, but the fourth, a doctor named David Dao, declined as he said that he had patients to treat the following morning. He was pulled from his seat by Chicago Department of Aviation security officers and dragged by his arms down the aisle. Dao sustained a concussion, broken teeth, a broken nose, and other injuries.[131] The incident was captured on smartphone cameras and posted on social media, triggering an angry public backlash. Afterwards, United's chief executive officer, Oscar Munoz, described Dao as "disruptive and belligerent", apologized for "re-accommodating" the paying customers, and defended and praised staff for "following established procedures". He was widely criticized as "tone-deaf".[132] Munoz later issued a second statement calling what happened a "truly horrific event" and accepting "full responsibility" for it.[133] After a lawsuit, Dao reached an undisclosed settlement with United and airport police. In the aftermath, United's board of directors decided that Munoz would not become its chairman and that executive compensation would be tied to customer satisfaction.[134] Following this incident, passenger complaints increased by 70 percent.[135]

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