United Continental Holdings, Inc. unveiled a series of changes to provide a more consistent travel experience for customers on United Airlines and Continental Airlines, marking another milestone in the integration of the two carriers. The changes – many introduced first at United’s hub at Chicago O’Hare International Airport – will roll out at airports across the airlines’ global network over the next several months.
United and Continental continue to make significant progress toward operating as a single carrier, the carrier said. UAL is on track to achieve a single operating certificate for combined operations from the Federal Aviation Administration in the fourth quarter of 2011 and to migrate to a single reservation system in the first quarter of 2012.
“The alignment of airport procedures, particularly for our most loyal customers, and the re-branding of our operations at our hometown airport are the newest visible signs of the successful integration of United and Continental,” said Jeff Smisek, United’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “We are making significant progress as we create the world’s leading airline, and customers are experiencing more of these benefits as they travel.”
Some of the changes visible to customers are:
• More seamless self-service capabilities – United and Continental continue to integrate self-service capabilities to provide customers what they need at their first point of contact with the airlines. The carriers have introduced new tools and functionality at United.com and Continental.com, allowing customers to shop for flights, obtain seat assignments and check flight status on either website whether traveling on United or Continental. At United’s and Continental’s largest airports, including their hub cities of Chicago, New York/Newark, Houston and San Francisco, customers may now check in and print boarding passes for flights on either airline using any United- or Continental-operated self-service check-in kiosk.
• New “Premier Access” airport services – The carriers introduced Premier Access, a new package of priority airport services, including designated check-in counters, priority security screening, “front of the line” boarding through special Premier Access lanes and priority baggage handling, for elite-level frequent flyers and premium-cabin customers. Premier Access re-branding will roll out through the system over the next several months. Until airports are re-branded, elite-level frequent flyers and customers traveling in First, Business and BusinessFirst cabins have access to United’s premium airport services and Continental’s EliteAccess benefits.
• New Mileage Plus and OnePass features and benefits – Members who have miles in both programs now may link their accounts and combine miles in order to earn awards faster. Members may also view their miles balances, elite status level and elite qualifying miles and segments earned side by side on one screen. In addition, elite members of both programs now also have priority phone access when calling either airline.
• Consistent airport experience – United and Continental aligned check-in and boarding processes across the two carriers. The airlines established consistent minimum check-in and boarding times for both domestic and international flights and aligned boarding procedures across both carriers to include early boarding for uniformed military personnel, First, Business and BusinessFirst customers, elite-level frequent flyers and families with children under the age of four. In addition, the carriers’ airport lounges now offer members free Wi-Fi and the same beverage choices, including complimentary beer, spirits and house red and white wine.
• New “Choice Menu” onboard – On flights offering meals and snacks for sale, United and Continental introduced a new “Choice Menu” inflight meal and snack service, including an Asian noodle salad, a Thai chicken wrap and Classic, Tapas and Savory snack-box options, all at common pricing. In addition, the airlines are in the process of aligning their on-board beverage programs, including soft drinks, beers, spirits and coffee. By late summer, both airlines will be serving the same coffee – a flavorful new custom blend – and the beer selection on domestic flights will include Heineken, Budweiser and Miller Lite.
• Aligned policies and procedures – The airlines aligned key customer policies and fees to offer consistency for customers traveling on both carriers, including same-day flight changes, standby requests, unaccompanied minor handling, in-cabin pet acceptance and charges for additional services.
• New airport signage and re-branding – Beginning with Chicago O’Hare International Airport, United and Continental will completely transform airport check-in and boarding areas with new airport signage reflecting the new United’s branding. The company is re-branding airports worldwide in phases over the next several months, beginning with airports in its hub cities. Customers will continue to receive required information about the operator of their flights under this branding.
• Single channels in social media – United and Continental now connect with followers via the Twitter handle @United and a new Facebook page.
Since closing the merger on October 1, 2010, the company says it has made significant progress integrating the two carriers. The company’s notable accomplishments include:
• Co-locating check-in, ticket counter and gate facilities at 40 airports worldwide, or nearly one-third of the airports that United and Continental jointly serve.
• Repainting 520 aircraft, or nearly 40 percent of the combined company’s total fleet, in the new United livery.
• Retaining United’s Economy Plus seating and expanding it to Continental aircraft beginning in 2012.
• Rolling out a new interim advertising campaign at airports, through customer communications and in other media.
• Introducing a new look to the inflight magazine, Hemispheres, offered to customers on all United and Continental flights.
• Selecting key technology platforms and processes.
• Introducing several employee programs, including on-time incentive, perfect attendance, profit-sharing and pass-travel programs, to ensure that employees share in the success they help create as the new United begins to build a Working Together culture.