United Airlines (IATA: UA, ICAO: UAL, and airline call sign: United) is the world's second largest airline, employing around 61,000 people and operates nearly 500 aircraft. It is headquartered in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, near its operations base at O'Hare International Airport.
United is prominent in the transcontinental air travel market and has large route networks spanning the Atlantic and Pacific. In terms of RPK, United is the largest international carrier in the U.S., the #1 transpacific carrier in the U.S. (although Northwest carries more transpacific passengers), and the #3 transatlantic carrier in the U.S. after Delta and American.
Despite its great size, United has been operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection since December 2002 and is set to emerge in the third quarter of 2005. United plans to reduce its fleet to 455 aircraft during the first half of 2005.
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Hubs and alliances
United has hub operations at
- O'Hare International Airport (ORD) serving Chicago, Illinois
- San Francisco International Airport (SFO) serving San Francisco, California
- Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) serving Washington, DC
- Denver International Airport (DEN) serving Denver, Colorado
- Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) serving Los Angeles, California
- Narita International Airport (NRT) serving Tokyo, Japan
United Airlines also has focus cities in Newark Liberty International Airport(EWR) serving New York City, New York; Logan International Airport(BOS) serving Boston, Massachusetts; Seattle-Tacoma International Airport(SEA) serving Seattle, Washington; and Portland International Airport serving Portland, Oregon.
United has a large international presence in New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). Even with recent downgrades in service, the airline is committed to building its own passenger terminal at the airport, which serves as the airline's second largest European gateway, behind United's hub at Washington Dulles International Airport.
United's regional feeder operation is United Express. United Express is the marketing name for several small airlines which operate under contract to fly passengers from small cities in the U.S. and Canada to United hubs. Although the aircraft are painted in United colors, they are separate companies with different pilots and management.
UA is a founding member of the Star Alliance, through which it is a marketing partner of 16 other carriers. It has a special partnership with Star member Lufthansa which includes profit-sharing on certain trans-Atlantic routes. Separately, United currently codeshares with SNCF French Rail to stations in France and has marketing agreements of varying intimacy with Aeromar, Air China, Aloha Airlines, BWIA, Cayman Airways, Virgin Blue, and Emirates.
UAL originated in the air mail service of Walter Varney, founded in 1926 in Boise, Idaho. Varney Airlines' original hangar served as a portion of the terminal building for the Boise Airport until 2003, when the structure was replaced.
In only four years the company included a number of airlines, aero manufacturing companies and several airports and was also closely associated with the new firm of William Boeing. Following the Air Mail Scandal of 1930, by 1934 the company still held its airlines routes but had lost all its non-airline holdings and had a new president in William A. Patterson (who remained in that office until 1963).
United's early routes operated in and around the West Coast, Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic states. It operated transcontinental flights through Denver, Colorado, which remains a major United hub to this day.
During World War II United was involved in the training of ground crews and material transportation. Post-war United benefited from the boom in demand for air travel.
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 bomb was planted by a man named Jack Graham, who was executed a year after the explosion .
The Boom Years of the late 20th Century
In 1968 the company reorganized, creating UAL, Inc., with United as a wholly owned subsidiary. United also began to seek overseas routes in the 1960s, but the Transpacific Route Case (1969) denied them this expansion and it did not gain an overseas route until 1983, when they began flights to Tokyo. By the end of the year, United had flights to 13 Pacific destinations, many of which were with route contracts purchased from the ailing Pan Am.
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.
Between 1982 and 1987, United attempted to diversify its business, to stabilize its finances and reduce the power of its unions. It acquired the Westin and Hilton Hotel chains and the Hertz car rental company, and briefly changed its name to Allegis. The venture failed, however; Allegis divested its non-airline properties in 1987 and reverted to the name UAL Corp.
The fall of Pan Am offered new opportunities for United. In 1991 the company initially expanded dramatically, purchasing Pan Am's former routes at London Heathrow Airport and paving the way for the company's first trans-Atlantic flights. However, the aftermath of the Gulf War and increased competition led to losses of $332m in 1991 and $957m in 1992.
In 1994, 55% of company stock was given to employees in exchange for salary concessions from its unions. The ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) made United the largest employee-owned company in the world. It used the opportunity to create a low-cost subsidiary, Shuttle by United, in an attempt to compete with low-cost carriers.
United was a launch customer of the Boeing 777, and was the first to introduce the twin-jet in commercial service.
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, however. 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.
Operation Bojinka and September 11
Operation Bojinka, Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Sheik Mohammed's plot against a large number of airliners targeted eight United aircraft flying transpacific routes on January 21, 1995. While this attack was prevented by an apartment fire in Manila, a "descendant" of the project perfected by Sheik Mohammed would cause death on United aircraft six years later.
As part of the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack, two United Airlines planes were hijacked, a Boeing 767–222 (Flight 175) that crashed into one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, and a Boeing 757–222 (Flight 93) that crashed in rural Pennsylvania. It is suspected to have been directed towards either the White House or the U.S. Capitol.
Bankruptcy and Reorganization
United benefited from the dot-com boom, which boosted traffic to its San Francisco hub, but failed to keep its costs under control and entered a downward spiral of losses after the bubble burst. In 2001 the company lost $2,137 million on revenues of $16,138 million and applied for a $1.5 billion loan guarantee from the federal Air Transportation Stabilization Board established in the wake of September 11. When the application was rejected in late 2002, the company was forced to seek debtor-in-possession financing from commercial sources to cover the expected future loses.
Unable to secure additional capital, UAL Corporation filed for chapter 11 protection against bankruptcy in December. The ESOP was terminated, but 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 has continued operations during its bankruptcy, but been forced to reorganize under delicate terms. Tens of thousands of workers were furloughed, as well as all city ticket offices in the US. United currently plans to eliminate its Latin American gateway and flight crew base at Miami International Airport after March 1, 2004.
At the same time, the airline has continued to invest in new projects. On November 12, 2003, it launched a new low-cost carrier, Ted, to compete with Frontier Airlines at the Denver hub. In 2004 it launched its luxury "p.s." (for "premium service") service on reconfigured 757s from JFK Airport in New York City to Los Angeles and San Francisco. The service is targeted to attract business customers and high-end leisure customers in the coast-to-coast market.
Financial pressure on the airine remains heavy. The SARS epidemic in 2003 depressed traffic on United's extensive Pacific network. The soaring cost of jet fuel in the aftermath of the 2003 Iraq war have also eaten away at profits. On June 30, 2004, United Airlines announced the application of a 5% fare hike on most flights to overseas destinations, citing rising fuel costs.
On December 9, 2004, the airline made history when UA869 (747–400) landed at Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The scheduled flight from San Francisco via Hong Kong 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. Two days after this United announced that it would cut U.S. flight capacity by 14% after the holidays and add more international flights, which are more profitable.
All of United's mainline fleet feature Economy Plus, a forward section in the Economy cabin that offers an additional 5 to 6 inches (127 to 152 mm) of space although cabin service is the same. Seats in Economy Plus are reserved for passengers on high-fare tickets (Y, M, and B fare classes) and for United 's frequent flyer Premier members and Star Alliance elites. By mid-2005 all 70-seater United Express aircraft will feature United First, United Economy Plus, and United Economy.
- Boeing 747–422
United operates 31 747s on international routes, primarily to East Asia and the South Pacific as well as from Washington to Frankfurt, Germany. 747s also occasionally make ferry and positioning flights between hubs such as Washington DC, San Francisco, Denver, and Chicago. They have a three-class (14/73/260) layout (First, Business, and Economy).
- Boeing 777–222
United operates 56 777s on international and transcontinental routes. There are three 777 subfleets: a two-class (36/312) subfleet used for domestic flights, a three-class (12/49/197) subfleet used for transatlantic flights, and a 10/45/198 subfleet used for transpacific flights. The international subfleets feature personal video in all cabins, while the domestic subfleet only has overhead monitors and projectors. United Airlines was the launch customer and primary design partner in conjuction with Boeing during the development of the 777.
- Boeing 767–322ER
United operates 37 767–322 aircraft, with subfleets for domestic and international flights. The international subfleet has a 10/32/151 layout, while the domestic subfleet has a 34/210 layout. These aircraft make transatlantic journeys as well as domestic transcontinental flights. The Boeing 767 family of aircraft makes more tranatlantic flights daily than any other type of aircraft.
- Boeing 757–222
United operates 96 757–222s. Most have a two-class (24/158) layout. In 2004, United began service with three-class 757s between New York and the West Coast: these aircraft have a 12/26/72 layout, with a higher seat pitch in first and business class and an all-Economy Plus main cabin.
The Boeing 767 and 757 have a flight crew commonality rating, flight crews are certified to operate either aircraft without any additional training. Boeing was the first to introduce this flight deck commonality that Airbus likes to take credit for.
- Boeing 737–522
United operates 57 737–522s. The most common configuration has a two-class 8/96 layout: there are also some aircraft converted from United's old Shuttle operation on the West Coast, which have an 8/102 layout.
- Boeing 737–322
United operates 101 737–322s, in regular (8/112) and ex-Shuttle (8/120) layouts.
- Airbus A320
United operates 90 A320s. These, along with the A319s, are replacing 737s throughout the system, due to their speed and range advantage. In addition, with better passenger amenities and comfort, the Airbus aircraft can be used on any previously-flown 737 route with a higher degree of passenger satisfaction. These have a 12/126 layout, with LCD video screens in the aisles. On Ted configured aircraft, there is no United First Section and there is an expanded United Economy Plus section.
- Airbus A319
United operates 55 A319s. These have an 8/112 layout.
The A320 and A319, like much of the Airbus family of aircraft, have a flight crew commonality rating, and flight crews can fly any of the common-rated types. They are so commonly substituted for one another that row numbers have been synchronized between the two; rows in the A319 thus jump from 2 to 6.
See full article: United Airlines destinations
- A Chicago Tribune Special Report: United's rhapsody of blues
- Airline History – United Air Lines
- Super70s.com: United Airlines
Frequent flyer miles
|Members of the Star Alliance|
| Air Canada | Air New Zealand | ANA | Asiana Airlines | Austrian Airlines|
bmi | LOT Polish Airlines | Lufthansa | SAS | Singapore Airlines
Spanair | TAP Portugal | Thai Airways | United Airlines | US Airways | Varig