United Airlines

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This article is about the airline based in the United States. For other uses, see United Airlines (disambiguation) and United Airways (disambiguation).
United Airlines, Inc.
United Airlines Logo.svg
IATA ICAO Callsign
Founded April 6, 1926 (April 6, 1926) (as Varney Air Lines)[1]
Commenced operations March 28, 1931[2]
AOC # CALA014A[3]
Frequent-flyer program MileagePlus
Airport lounge United Club
Alliance Star Alliance
Fleet size 715 (mainline only)
Destinations 375
Company slogan Fly the Friendly Skies
Parent company United Continental Holdings
Headquarters Willis Tower, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Key people Oscar Munoz, President & CEO[6]
Brett J. Hart acting CEO[7]
Henry L. Meyer III, Chairman[6]
Revenue Increase US$ 38.901 billion (2014)[8]
Operating income Increase US$ 2.373 billion(2014)[9]
Net income Increase US$ 1.132 billion(2014)[9]
Total assets Increase US$ 37.353 billion(2014)[9]
Total equity Decrease US$ 2.396 billion(2014)[9]
Employees 84,000 (2015)[9]
Website united.com

United Airlines, Inc., commonly referred to as United, is a major American airline headquartered in Chicago, Illinois.[10][11][12] It is the world's largest airline when measured by number of destinations served, and the second largest when measured by scheduled passenger-kilometres flown. United operates a comprehensive domestic and international route network, and has significant presence in the Asia-Pacific region.[13] In the late 1920s, just prior to the use of the United Airlines name, The Boeing Company, currently one of the world's largest aircraft manufacturers, operated a predecessor airline.

United is a founding member of Star Alliance, the world's first and largest global airline alliance. Regional service is operated by independent carriers under the brand name United Express. Its main competitors are American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and Southwest Airlines.

United operates out of nine airline hubs located in Houston, Chicago, Newark/New York, Denver, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Guam, and Tokyo.[14] United also operates maintenance bases in Cleveland and Orlando in addition to the maintenance locations located at United's hubs.[15] George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston is United's largest passenger carrying hub handling 16.6 million passengers annually with an average of 45,413 passengers daily,[16] while Chicago-O'Hare is its largest hub in terms of daily departures. The company employs over 88,500 people while maintaining its headquarters in Chicago's Willis Tower (formerly known as Sears Tower).[17] Through the airline's parent company, United Continental Holdings, it is publicly traded under NYSEUAL with a market capitalization of over $18 billion as of September, 2014.[18]


United Air Lines route map, 1940

United Airlines traces its roots to Varney Air Lines air mail service of Walter Varney, who also founded Varney Speed Lines, from which Continental Airlines had originated. Founded in Boise, Idaho in 1926, the carrier flew the first Contract Air Mail flight in the U.S. on April 6, 1926, marking the first scheduled airline service in the country's history.[19][20][21] In 1927, aviation pioneer William Boeing founded his own airline, Boeing Air Transport to operate the San Francisco to Chicago air mail route,[22][23] and began buying other airmail carriers including Varney Airlines.[24] In 1929, Boeing merged his company with Pratt & Whitney to form the United Aircraft and Transport Corporation (UATC).[25]

In 1933, United began operating the Boeing 247,[26] the first all-metal airliner. It was able to fly a transcontinental flight in 20 hours, making it significantly faster than its predecessors.[27] After passage of the Air Mail Act in 1934, UATC separated into United Aircraft (the future United Technologies), the Boeing Airplane Company and United Air Lines.[28]

After World War II, United gained from a boom in customer demand for air travel, with its revenue per passenger-miles jumping five-fold in the 1950s, and continued growth occurring through the next two decades.[29]

United Boeing 727-200 in the Stars and Bars Friend Ship livery at Los Angeles International Airport in August 1974

In 1954 United Airlines became the first airline to purchase modern flight simulators which had visual, sound and motion cues for training pilots. Purchased for US$3 million (1954) from Curtiss-Wright, these were the first of today's modern flight simulators for training of commercial passenger aircraft pilots.[30]

United merged with Capital Airlines in 1961 and regained its position as the United States' largest airline. In 1968, the company reorganized, creating UAL Corporation, with United Airlines as a wholly owned subsidiary. In 1970, the UAL Corporation acquired Western International Hotels, and its name was later changed to Westin Hotel Company. The 1970s also saw economic turmoil, resulting in "stagflation" and labor unrest. The 1978 Airline Deregulation Act, resulting in industry shakeups, further added to the carrier's difficulties in a loss-making period.[24]

In 1982, United became the first carrier to operate the Boeing 767, taking its first delivery of 767-200s on August 19.[31] In May 1985, the airline underwent a 29-day pilot strike over management's proposed "B-scale" pilot pay rates.[32] Then-company CEO Richard Ferris changed United's parent company's name from UAL Corporation to Allegis in February 1987, but following his termination, the company reverted to the name UAL Corp. in May 1988, and divested non-airline properties.[33][34]

United Boeing 747SP in the 1974–1993 Rainbow Scheme

In 1985, United expanded dramatically by purchasing Pan Am's entire Pacific Division, giving it a prime Asian hub at Tokyo's Narita International Airport, and in 1991 purchased routes to Heathrow Airport from ailing Pan Am,.[35] making it one of two US carriers permitted exclusive access to Heathrow under Bermuda II until "open skies" took effect in 2008 (American Airlines being the other, after it purchased TWA's Heathrow landing slots). The aftermath of the Gulf War and increased competition from low-cost carriers led to losses in 1991 and 1992.[24][36] In 1994, United's pilots, machinists, bag handlers and non-contract employees agreed to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), acquiring 55% of company stock in exchange for 15–25% salary concessions, making the carrier the largest employee-owned corporation in the world.[37] The carrier also launched a low-cost subsidiary in 1994, Shuttle by United a high frequency, west coast-based operation, in an attempt to compete with low-cost carriers; the subsidiary remained in operation until 2001.[24]

The "Tulip" was the United Airlines logo from 1973 to 2010

In 1995, United became the first airline to introduce the Boeing 777 in commercial service.[38] In 1997, United co-founded the Star Alliance airline partnership. In May 2000, United announced a planned US$11.6 billion acquisition of US Airways, but withdrew the offer in July 2001 before the United States Department of Justice barred the merger on antitrust grounds.[24][39] May 2000 also saw a bitter contract dispute between United and its pilots' union over pay cuts and concessions to fund the ESOP and overtime work, causing summer flight cancellations until a salary increase was agreed upon.[40]

During the September 11, 2001 attacks, two of the four airliners hijacked and crashed by al-Qaeda members were United Airlines aircraft (United Airlines Flight 175 was flown into the south World Trade Center tower; United Airlines Flight 93 was crashed in a field in Pennsylvania after the passengers fought back against the hijackers). An airline industry downturn resulted, and coupled with economic difficulties, skyrocketing oil prices, and higher labor costs, the company lost US$2.14 billion in 2001. In the same year United applied for a US$1.5 billion loan guarantee from the federal Air Transportation Stabilization Board established in the wake of the September 11 attacks.[41] After attempts to secure additional capital failed, UAL Corporation filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December 2002 and the ESOP was terminated.[42]

United's bankruptcy operations resulted in furloughing thousands of workers, closing all U.S. city ticket offices, cancelling several existing and planned routes, downsizing its Miami operations, closing maintenance bases, replacing employee pensions, and fleet reductions. The carrier also negotiated cost cuts with employees, suppliers, and contractors, and terminated feeder contracts with United Express carriers Atlantic Coast Airlines and Air Wisconsin. The carrier launched a new, all coach, low-cost carrier named Ted in 2003, and a luxury "p.s." (for "premium service") coast-to-coast service on re-configured 757s in 2004. In 2005, United cancelled its pension plan in the largest such default in U.S. corporate history.[42]

Airliner takeoff. The jet's nose is angled upwards as it lifts above the runway, with landing gear still deployed.
The first Boeing 777 in commercial service, United Airlines' N777UA, taking off from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol in 2005. This aircraft has since been repainted in the United-Continental livery.

In 2005, United announced it had raised US$3 billion in financing to exit bankruptcy and filed its Plan of Reorganization, as announced, on September 7, 2005. United Airlines emerged from bankruptcy on February 1, 2006.[43] In late 2006, Continental Airlines participated in preliminary merger discussions with United.[42][44][45] On June 4, 2008, United announced it would close its Ted unit and reconfigure the subsidiary's aircraft for a return to mainline configuration.[46][47]

On April 16, 2010, United resumed merger talks with Continental Airlines. (The two airlines had previously discussed merging in 2008.)[48] The board of directors of both Continental and UAL Corporation's United Airlines reached an agreement to combine operations on May 2, 2010. The combined carrier would use the United Airlines name, but keep Continental's logo and livery. Continental's CEO Jeff Smisek would head the new company. The merger was contingent upon shareholder and regulatory approval.[49]

N778UA, the second Boeing 777-200 to enter commercial service, bearing the post-merger livery, with the Continental globe and United name

The United-Continental merger was approved by the European Commission in July 2010 and by the US Justice Department on August 27, 2010.[50][51] On September 17, 2010, United's shareholders approved the merger deal with Continental Airlines.[52] On October 1, 2010, the UAL Corporation changed its name to United Continental Holdings, Inc. to reflect that both United Air Lines, Inc. (“United”) and the Company ("Continental") are its wholly owned subsidiaries.[53] Both carriers planned to begin merging operations in 2011 to form the world's biggest carrier.[54] The airline received a single operating certificate from the FAA on November 30, 2011, in the process retaining Continental's air operator's certificate, and surrendering the one of the original United.[55]

On March 3, 2012, United & Continental merged their passenger service systems, frequent-flier programs, and websites, virtually eliminating the Continental brand in the eye of the consumer.[56]

In October 2015, United Airlines appointed Brett J. Hart as its acting CEO, four days after chief executive Oscar Munoz suffered a heart attack.[57]


United Airlines Boeing 767-300ER in the Rising Blue livery used from 2004 until the merger with Continental Airlines, with 1997 Pentagram-designed font.[citation needed]

United Airlines is a combination of a number of air carriers that have merged with each other starting in the 1930s, with the most recent being Continental Airlines (which had previously merged with or acquired several airlines during its history) thus reflecting changes in focus of both United and the U.S. air transport market.[58][59][60]

Predecessor air carriers that form the present United Airlines include:

  • Boeing Air Transport (formed in 1927, merged into United Airlines in 1931)
  • Capital Airlines (formed in 1936, merged into United Airlines in 1961)
  • Continental Airlines (formed in 1934, merged into United Airlines in 2010)
    • Air Micronesia (formed in 1968 as a division of Continental Airlines, later became Continental Micronesia and merged into Continental Airlines in 2010)
    • New York Air (formed in 1980, merged into Continental Airlines in 1987)
    • Pioneer Airlines (formed in 1939, merged into Continental Airlines in 1955)
    • People Express Airlines (PEOPLExpress) (formed in 1981, merged into Continental Airlines in 1987)
    • Texas International Airlines (formed in 1944 as Trans-Texas Airways (TTa), Continental Airlines merged into Texas Air in 1982, with Texas Air changing its name to Continental)
  • National Air Transport (formed in 1925, merged into United Airlines in 1931)
  • Pacific Air Transport (formed in 1926, merged into United Airlines in 1931)
  • Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) (Formed in 1927, Pacific Division acquired by and merged into United in 1985, Heathrow Airport international traffic rights acquired by and merged into United in 1990. Pan Am was later forced to declare bankruptcy in 1991)
  • Varney Air Lines (formed in 1926, merged into United Airlines in 1931)

Many of these acquisitions and mergers were completed by Continental Airlines when this carrier was under the ownership and control of Texas Air Corporation from 1982 to 1987. During that time period, New York Air and Texas International Airlines (which were already owned by Texas Air Corporation before this company acquired Continental) were merged into Continental.[61] Texas Air Corporation subsequently acquired PEOPLExpress Airlines (which had previously acquired Frontier Airlines) and then folded these air carriers into Continental as well.[62] As for United, before merging with Continental it had acquired Capital Airlines in the 1960s and had also purchased Pan Am's Pacific Division as well as Pan Am's transatlantic route rights into Heathrow Airport during the 1980s.[60]

Corporate identity[edit]

Two United Airlines Boeing 777s in different liveries at San Francisco International Airport. The 777 on the right, which bears the "Battleship Gray" scheme, is on its takeoff roll on 28L, while the one on the left with the "Rising Blue" paint has some more taxiing to get to the same runway. Both have since been repainted with the United-Continental colors.
Boeing 787s feature a wavy gold stripe along the sides of the fuselage.

Brand image[edit]

The pre-merger United logo, commonly nicknamed the "tulip", was first developed in the early 1970s after the airline commissioned designer Saul Bass to develop a new brand image.[63] The logo skillfully represented the airline's monogram as well as a modernized version of the airline's shield logo[64] 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.[65] The Saul Bass livery was updated in 1988 to feature larger lettering on the fuselage, with the rainbow stripes on the side moved down to accommodate the new space.[citation needed]

The next livery update came in the early 1990s: the CKS Group-designed "Battleship", a grey fuselage with dark blue underbelly and engines, with blue stripes on the vertical stabilizer, a smaller "tulip" on the vertical stabilizer. A smaller, more refined version of the rainbow stripes from the previous livery were incorporated as well. This livery debuted on January 11, 1993. In 2004, the Pentagram-developed "Rising Blue" livery featured a white and lighter blue fuselage, along with a cropped version of the tulip on the tail.

In 2010, the newly merged United adopted Continental Airlines' 1991 livery scheme, which included the Continental globe symbol. The current United livery consists of a white upper fuselage, with a gold globe on a blue tailfin, and a gray underbelly. All mainline aircraft are now painted in this livery, save for the airframes listed in special liveries below, which include two retro liveries. Boeing 787 Dreamliners use a modified version of the livery, with a wavy gold stripe painted along both sides of the fuselage.

Historical logos[edit]

Proposed logo used at the announcement of merger with Continental Airlines. Later replaced with current logo.[66] 

Marketing themes[edit]

Further information: United Airlines slogans

United resurrected its popular "Fly the Friendly Skies" slogan in September 2013.[67] Until September, 2013, the slogan, adopted after the merger of United and Continental in October 2010, was "Let's fly together". This replaced the slogan "It's time to fly" created in 2004. 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.[citation needed]

On September 20, 2013 United announced a return of the "Fly the Friendly Skies" slogan in an ad campaign to start the following day. The resurrected slogan will be accompanied by the "Rhapsody in Blue" theme song and a voice over provided by Matt Damon.[68]

United's theme song is George Gershwin's 1924 "Rhapsody in Blue", which it licensed from Gershwin's estate for US$500,000 ($2,079,240 in 2016) in 1976.[69] "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.[70]


United is a major sponsor of six of Chicago's seven major professional sports teams—the Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls, Fire, Sky and White Sox. It had previously served as a sponsor of the Chicago Cubs, however, the club signed a deal with United's O'Hare rival American Airlines in 2015.[71] United also flies the U.S. Olympic Team, D.C. United, Denver Broncos, Golden State Warriors, Kansas City Royals, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Rams, Miami Marlins, San Francisco 49ers, SF Giants, San Jose Earthquakes, San Jose Sharks, Sporting KC, Washington Capitals, Washington Nationals, Washington Redskins and Washington Wizards. The Blackhawks and Bulls play their games in the United Center, which the airline holds the naming rights to until 2033.

Through its merger with Continental Airlines, United also became the official airline of the Brooklyn Nets, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Browns, New York Giants,[72] New Jersey Devils, Houston Dynamo, Houston Texans, Houston Astros, and all of the New York Road Runners races (which after the merger, later became the title sponsor of the New York City Half Marathon).[73] The Houston Rockets had used them as their airline sponsor; they signed a deal with Southwest in 2015.

United sponsors all Tuesday subscription concerts of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.[74][75]

Corporate affairs[edit]


United Continental Holdings World Headquarters, Willis Tower. United is the building's single largest occupant.[76]

In 2007, United Airlines moved its headquarters and its 350 top executives from its headquarters at 1200 East Algonquin Road in suburban Elk Grove Township to 77 West Wacker Drive after considering alternate locations in Denver, Colorado and San Francisco, California.[77][78] The Elk Grove Village campus was renamed an Operations Center and United Airlines consolidated several of its offices in the suburbs of Chicago into the Elk Grove Village campus.[79]

After the City of Chicago submitted a US$35 million (2010) incentive, including US$10 million (2010) in grants for United to move its remaining employees to Chicago, United proceeded to schedule a move of about 2,500 employees out of the former Elk Grove Township headquarters and into Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower) in downtown Chicago. Monica Davey of The New York Times said that the move may have contributed to United's decision to base the newly merged United Continental Holdings out of Chicago instead of Houston.[80] On May 31, 2012, United opened its new operations center at Willis Tower in downtown Chicago.[81] The company occupies 16 floors of the Willis Tower.[76]

Other facilities[edit]

United ticket office in Tamuning, Guam

UAL, United Airline's parent company prior to its merger with Continental Airlines, previously held majority ownership stakes in several major travel and leisure companies. UAL's former subsidiaries include international hotel chains Westin Hotels and Resorts and Hilton Hotels Corporation as well as global car rental company Hertz. UAL sold or spun off most of its assets not related to its core airline operations during the 1980s and '90s.

United formerly owned the Waikiki Seaside Hotel, a hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii which was used by its flight crews and was sold in February 2012.[82]

Environmental strategy[edit]

On August 23, 2011, United announced a conversion to paperless flight decks and deployed 11,000 iPads to all United pilots. Each iPad, which weighs less than 1.5 pounds, replaced approximately 38 pounds of paper operating manuals, navigation charts, reference handbooks, flight checklists, logbooks and weather information in a pilot's flight bag. The electronic flight bags (EFBs) replaced conventional flight bags full of paper materials that contains an average of 12,000 sheets of paper per pilot, and as a first for major network carriers, provide pilots with paperless aeronautical navigational charts through an iPad app. The green benefits of moving to EFBs include reductions in paper use, printing, and fuel consumption. Distribution of the iPads began in early August 2011, and all pilots were using them by the years end.[83]

On November 7, 2011, United Airlines flew the world's first commercial aviation flight on a microbially derived biofuel using Solajet™, Solazyme's algae-derived renewable jet fuel, and fueled with 40 percent Solajet and 60 percent petroleum-derived jet fuel. This was operated by the "Eco-Skies" Boeing 737-800 aircraft on a flight from Houston to Chicago.[84]

On July 12, 2012, United announced an order for 100 Boeing 737 MAX 9s, a new, more fuel efficient version of the Boeing 737 family. These aircraft will be used to replace the less fuel efficient domestic fleet of Boeing 757-200s.[85]

On January 15, 2013, Aviation Partners Boeing (APB) announced that United had placed an order to retrofit its existing Boeing Next Generation 737s' Blended Winglets with APB's new Split Scimitar Winglet. The program consists of retrofitting 737NGs' winglets by replacing the aluminum winglet tip cap with a new aerodynamically shaped "Scimitar" winglet tip cap and by adding a new Scimitar tipped Ventral Strake. This modification demonstrated significant aircraft drag reduction over the basic Blended Winglet configuration. The new APB winglet technology was estimated to save United more than $250 million per year in jet fuel costs fleet wide.[86]


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,[87][88] which struck down a scope clause that disallowed Continental from outsourcing the flying of regional jets with 70 or more passenger seats.[89]

Animal transport[edit]

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.[90][91]

Cyber security[edit]

In a first for the U.S. airline industry, 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.[92][93]


Current hubs[edit]

A United Boeing 777-200 at the gate at San Francisco

United operates eight domestic hubs and one international hub.[94]

  • Chicago O'Hare International Airport – O'Hare is United's largest hub and its hub for the Midwest. United flies approximately 15.1 million passengers through O'Hare every year, which is about 41,414 people per day,[95] making it also the busiest airline at the airport. United's corporate headquarters are also in Chicago.
  • George Bush Intercontinental Airport – The second biggest hub in terms of daily flights, and first in terms of passengers traffic, it is United's hub for the Southern United States and primary gateway to Latin America.[96] About 16.1 million passengers fly through IAH on United every year, or about 44,196 people per day.[96] United currently has about 78% of the seat share at Bush, making it the airport's largest tenant.[97] Houston was previously Continental's biggest hub before the United-Continental merger.[98]
  • Newark Liberty International Airport – The third biggest hub for United in terms of number of flights and destinations and United's primary hub for the East Coast and gateway to Europe, Latin America and Asia.[99] About 12.2 million passengers fly on United through Newark every year, or about 33,495 people per day.[99] United controls about 81% of the slots at Newark and carries about 68% of all passengers at the airport, making it the airport's largest airline.[100][101] Newark was previously Continental's second biggest hub before the United-Continental merger.[98] United controls all of Terminal C and uses part of Terminal A for United Express Flights.
  • Denver International Airport – The fourth biggest hub in terms of number of destinations and flights and United's hub for the central and western United States.[102] United flies approximately 10.3 million passengers a year through DIA, which is about 28,333 people per day.[102] As of March 2015, United has about 43.37% of the market share at DIA, making it the airport's biggest airline.[103] DIA was previously United's second biggest hub before the United-Continental merger.[98] Denver is the only domestic hub without service to Europe (although the carrier at one point operated a seasonal service from Denver to Heathrow Airport).
  • San Francisco International Airport – The fifth biggest hub in terms of number of flights, and sixth biggest in terms of number of destinations, and United's primary hub for the West Coast and gateway to Asia, Europe and Australia.[104] About 10.1 million passengers fly through SFO every year on United, which is about 27,746 people per day.[104] United has about 46.1% of the market share at San Francisco International, making it the biggest airline at the airport.[105] San Francisco was previously United's third biggest hub before the United-Continental merger.[98]
  • Washington Dulles International Airport – The sixth biggest hub in terms of number of flights, and fifth biggest in terms of number of destinations, and United's secondary hub for the East Coast and gateway to Europe.[106] United has about 65.2% of the market share at Washington Dulles, making it the largest airline at the airport.[107] About 6.5 million passengers fly through Dulles every year on United, which is about 17,824 people per day.[106] Dulles was previously United's fourth biggest hub before the United-Continental merger.[98]
  • Los Angeles International Airport – The seventh biggest hub for United in terms of number of destinations and flights and United's secondary hub for the West Coast and gateway to Asia and Australia.[108] About 5.9 million passengers fly through LAX on United every year, or about 16,041 people per day.[108] United has about 16.65% of the market share at LAX, making it the third biggest carrier at the airport.[109] LAX was previously United's fifth biggest hub before the United-Continental merger.[98]
  • Guam A. B. Won Pat International Airport – The eighth biggest hub in terms of number of destinations and flights and United's hub for the Pacific.[94] Guam was previously Continental's fourth biggest hub before the United-Continental merger.
  • Tokyo Narita International Airport – The ninth biggest hub in terms of number of destinations and flights and United's hub for Asia.[94] Narita was previously United's sixth biggest hub before the United-Continental merger.[98]

Former hubs[edit]

  • Cleveland Hopkins International Airport – United Airlines maintained a secondary East Coast hub in Cleveland until 1985, when they began to move the hub to Washington Dulles. By the time the transition finished in 1987, Continental Airlines made the airport its then fifth hub as their first Midwest hub. United kept Cleveland as a hub following the United-Continental merger. Four years after the merger on February 1, 2014, United announced it was dehubbing Cleveland due to the hub not being profitable.[110] The airport was officially dehubbed on June 5, 2014. Other reasons for the dehubbing include the close proximity of the larger hubs of Chicago-O'Hare, Washington-Dulles and Newark, which were bigger hubs, and the lack of any flights out of North America.
  • Miami International Airport – When United bought Pan Am's international routes from Miami to Europe and Latin America in 1991, Miami became a hub for the airline. In May 2004, MIA was dehubbed and United moved its flights to its main hub in Chicago.[111]
  • Stapleton International Airport – Both United and Continental operated hubs from Denver International Airport's predecessor airport, with both hubs lasting from 1972 until the airport closed in 1995. When Stapleton was replaced with DIA, United made the transfer, but Continental decided against keeping a hub in Denver.[112]


UA hubs listed by departures including UA Express (Qtr. 2: 2015)
Rank Airport Flights Destinations
1 Chicago–O'Hare, Illinois 550[95] 180[95]
2 Houston–Intercontinental, Texas 542[96] 180[96]
3 Newark, New Jersey 385[99] 158[99]
4 Denver, Colorado 375[102] 141[102]
5 San Francisco, California 275[104] 95[104]
6 Washington-Dulles, Virginia 225[106] 114[106]
7 Los Angeles, California 150[108] 57[108]
8 Guam 30 22
9 Tokyo–Narita, Japan 18 11

United Airlines flies to 235 domestic mainline destinations and 138 international destinations in 60 countries across Asia, Americas, Europe, Oceania, and Africa including cities only served by United Express, from 9 hubs. The carrier, along with British Airways, Delta Air Lines, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Korean Air, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Air China, and South African Airways, is one of the few airlines that fly to all six inhabited continents.

Route network[edit]

United provides worldwide service to Asia, Australia, Africa and Europe. United operates an extensive domestic route network from its seven domestic hubs and is a leading U.S. carrier between Hawaii and the continental U.S. United also operates international hubs in Guam and Tokyo.

United aircraft at Newark Liberty Airport in Newark, NJ

In 1988, the bilateral (though not reciprocal) treaty with Japan was amended to allow additional routes between the two countries. United's application to fly from Chicago-O'Hare to Tokyo-Narita, a significant gap in its routes previously, was approved.[113] On October 18, 2013, United filed an application with the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) to fly from San Francisco to Tokyo's Haneda Airport, the airline plans to launch flights in October 2014.[114] On February 28, 2014, the USDOT tentatively granted approval for the airline's San Francisco-Haneda route;[115] which launched on October 26, 2014.[116]

United's international expansion is focused on Asia and Latin America. United is the leading U.S. carrier to the People's Republic of China in terms of capacity, with nonstop flights to Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai, and Xi'an (starting May 8, 2016), as well as the former British territory of Hong Kong, from its hubs in Chicago, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. In September 2007, United was granted a route from San Francisco to Guangzhou but the route was never launched.[117] On May 20, 2011, the airline was granted service from Los Angeles to Shanghai that launched.[118] On June 9, 2014, the airline introduced nonstop service to Chengdu from San Francisco, operated with a Boeing 787.[119] United will introduce nonstop seasonal service to Xi'an from San Francisco beginning May 8, 2016 operating until October 27, 2016, which will be operated with a Boeing 787.[120]

United's former tulip logo as seen at its Denver hub

United inaugurated service to Bahrain on April 18, 2010,[121] and Accra, Ghana on June 20, 2010, which was the carrier's first African destination.[122] With this addition, United has provided service to all continents except Antarctica. United's service to Accra was extended to Lagos, Nigeria (the carrier's second African destination) on December 12, 2010,[123] with nonstop service commencing on November 16, 2011, and terminating on December 18, 2011 (although Lagos is still serviced by the carrier, albeit with a non-stop flight from Houston).[124] United later terminated services to Accra altogether on July 3, 2012.[124] United also launched service from Washington D.C. to Doha, Qatar via Dubai on May 1, 2012.[125] United also terminated services to Denmark in September 2012. United is the only US Carrier with service to Oslo, Hamburg, and Berlin. [124]

During winter months, United has made a point of increasing its flights into regional airports that serve ski resorts, such as Aspen, Jackson Hole and Montrose, as the airline has found it a profitable niche. This is in addition to its major hub service in Denver. With more than 300 weekly flights into regional ski town airports, United has more than triple the ski service of the next closest airline, Delta.[126]

United had requested to do a slot swap at New York-JFK and New York-Newark (EWR) by giving Delta its's 24 JFK slots in return for 24 of Delta's EWR slots. (by giving 24 slots to Delta). This is a direct result of the movement of United's transcontinental p.s. flights from JFK to EWR around the same time. However, this would further increase United's monopoly at EWR beyond the current 73%, causing any such deal to face a great amount of scrutiny. As of November 2015, the US DOJ has sued UAL and DAL to block the slot swap.[127]

Codeshare agreements[edit]

United Express Embraer ERJ 145 at Hermanos Serdán International Airport (PBC); Puebla, Mexico

In addition to its Star Alliance and United Express partnerships, United Airlines codeshares and/or has marketing agreements with the following airlines as of May 2015:[128]



United Airlines operates 715 mainline aircraft. Most of the fleet is Boeing aircraft, with the exception of Airbus A319, Airbus A320, and future Airbus A350 aircraft. United was also the launch customer of several aircraft types. As of January 2016, its fleet consists of the following:[130][131][132][133][134]

United Airlines Mainline Fleet
Aircraft In Service Orders Options Passengers Ref Notes
F B E+ E Total
Airbus A319-100 56 24 8 42 78 128 [135] Acquiring used aircraft from China Southern Airlines and Spirit Airlines. Deliveries begin in 2016.
Airbus A320-200 97 12 42 96 150 [136]
Airbus A350-1000 35[137] 40
Deliveries begin in 2018.[138]
Boeing 737-700 40 40 12 40 66 118 [139] Deliveries begin in 2017.[140]
Boeing 737-800 130 16 48 90 154 [141]
16 48 102 166 [142]
16 54 96 166 [143]
14 141 155 [144]
Boeing 737-900 12 20 51 96 167 [145]
20 42 117 179 [146]
Boeing 737-900ER 129 1[147] 20 51 96 167 [145]
20 42 117 179 [148]
20 39 120 179 [149]
Boeing 737 MAX 9 100[147]
Deliveries begin in 2018.[150]
Boeing 747-400 22 12 52 70 240 374 [151]
Boeing 757-200 4 24 50 108 182 [152] To be retired by April 2016.[153]
41 16 45 108 169 [154]
15 28 42 72 142 [155] United p.s. configuration.
Boeing 757-300 21 24 57 132 213 [156] Largest operator of the 757-300.
Boeing 767-300ER 35 6 26 71 80 183 [157]
30 49 135 214 [158]
Boeing 767-400ER 16 39 63 140 242 [159]
Boeing 777-200 19 32 98 214 344 [160] Launch customer. Largest operator of the 777-200.
8 40 110 108 266 [161] International fleet will be transitioned and reconfigured for domestic use.[162]
Boeing 777-200ER 55 8 40 113 108 269 [163] Largest operator of the 777-200ER.
50 72 145 267 [164]
Boeing 777-300ER 10[147] 60 110 196 366 [165] Deliveries begin in 2016.
Boeing 787-8 12 35 36 70 113 219 [166] Remaining orders were converted to the 787-10.
Boeing 787-9 14 4[147] 48 88 116 252 [167] 10 orders were converted to the 777-300ER.[162]
Boeing 787-10 25[147]
Deliveries begin in 2018.[168]
Total 716 191 75

United received its first Boeing 787 Dreamliner on September 22, 2012, becoming the first U.S. carrier to do so.[169] The airline announced plans to place the Boeing 787 into scheduled passenger service effective November 4, 2012, on U.S. domestic routes from Houston (IAH) to Chicago (ORD), New York Newark (EWR), Washington-Dulles (IAD) and San Francisco (SFO) prior to operating the Dreamliner in scheduled international service. However several Dreamliner battery incidentsBoeing_787_Dreamliner_battery_problems caused all 787s to be grounded for four months from January 2013; and United's 787s did not resume operations until mid-May that year.[170] United is also the North American launch customer for the 787-9 and 787-10, stretched versions of the base 787-8 model.

Special liveries[edit]

Registration Livery Aircraft
N13720 Star Alliance livery Boeing 737-700
N26210 Boeing 737-800
N14120 Boeing 757-200
N653UA Boeing 767-300ER
N76055 Boeing 767-400ER
N218UA Boeing 777-200ER
N475UA 1970s United "Friendship" retro livery Airbus A320-200
N66848 March of Dimes partial on current livery Boeing 737-900ER
N75432 "Eco-skies" partial on current livery
N75436 Continental Airlines 1947 "Blue Skyways" retro livery

Fleet gallery[edit]

Historical fleet[edit]

United Airlines Retired Fleet[171]
Aircraft Year retired Replacement Notes
Boeing 80AB 1934 Launch customer
Boeing 40A 1937 Launch customer[172]
Boeing 247 1942 Launch customer, all 59 of the base model were built for United[173]
Ford Trimotor
Laird Swallow J-5https://www.united.com/page/article/0,,1408,00.html—broken link Single seat biplane used to carry US Air Mail (CAM 5) by predecessor Varney Air Lines.
Douglas DC-3
Boeing 377 Stratocruiser 1954
Douglas DC-7 1964
Convair 340 1968
Vickers Viscount 1969 Boeing 727 & 737 Former Capital Airlines aircraft. Only mainline turboprop aircraft type ever operated by United.
Douglas DC-6 1970
Sud Aviation Caravelle 1970 Boeing 727 & 737 Only U.S. operator of this French-manufactured intermediate range twinjet
Lockheed L-1011 TriStar[174] 1989 McDonnell Douglas DC-10 Purchased from Pan American World Airways. Sold to Delta Air Lines.
Boeing 720 1976 Boeing 727 Launch Customer.
Douglas DC-8 1992 Boeing 757-200 Largest DC-8 operator.
Fleet included stretched DC-8 "Super 60" series (DC-8-61) and re-engined "Super 70" series (DC-8-71) aircraft.
United accomplished the re-engining of its Super DC-8 aircraft in-house via its maintenance dept. One crashed in 1960 (UA 826).
Boeing 727-100 1993 Boeing 737-500 Launch customer
Boeing 747SP 1995 Boeing 747-400 Purchased from Pan American World Airways
Boeing 747-100 1999 Boeing 777-200/200ER
McDonnell Douglas DC-10 2001 Boeing 777-200/200ER Launch Customer. Fleet included original DC-10-10 variant and larger, longer range DC-10-30 variant. One crashed in 1989.
Boeing 747-200 2000 Boeing 747-400
Boeing 727-200 2001 Airbus A320 family
Boeing 737-200 2001 Airbus A320 family Launch customer
Boeing 737-300 2009 Airbus A320 family
Boeing 737-500[175] 2009, 2013 Airbus A320 family,
Boeing 737-900ER
The United 737-500 and 767-200/ER fleet had been retired by 2009 and 2005, respectively. 737-500 and 767-200ER frames inherited from the merger with Continental Airlines were disposed by 2013. One 767-200 crashed during September 11 attacks (UA 175).
Boeing 767-200ER[176] 2005, 2013 Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner


United GlobalFirst[edit]

United Global First Suite on the Boeing 747.

GlobalFirst is United's international first class product, and is offered on all Boeing 747-400s, as well as all three class configured Boeing 767-300ERs and Boeing 777-200ERs. A standard GlobalFirst suite is 6.5 ft (2.0 m) long and reclines into a fully flat bed. All seats are equipped with a personal LCD television with Audio-Video-on-Demand (AVOD), an adjustable headrest, an iPod adapter, a US-style 120-volt power outlet, a large tray table, and other amenities.[177] United launched a new turn-down service which is available on all long-haul international flights.[178]

United BusinessFirst[edit]

United BusinessFirst with a front/rear facing configuration on a Boeing 767-300.
New flatbed BusinessFirst seats aboard a Boeing 767-300. These seats can be found on all Boeing 787 aircraft, Boeing 767-400 aircraft, internationally configured or p.s. configured Boeing 757-200, and select Boeing 777-200 aircraft.

BusinessFirst is offered on all wide-body aircraft (with the exception of domestically configured 777-200s), as well as all internationally configured Boeing 757-200s. BusinessFirst passengers check in at separate counters and can use priority security screening where available. In-flight service includes pre-departure beverages, table linens and multi course meals designed by United's Congress of Chefs on international flights.[179] Passengers are also given priority with boarding and baggage handling and access to the United Club and other airline lounges. The longest domestic routes (such as the 9-10 hour long flights from the East Coast to Hawaii) utilize BusinessFirst equipped aircraft, however these flights are sold as United First but do not allow for complimentary premier upgrades. All BusinessFirst seats recline 180 degrees into a full, flat bed. On all 747 aircraft and legacy United aircraft (registration ending in -UA), the seats alternate facing forward and backwards. On legacy Continental aircraft, and on all 787 aircraft, all seats face forward.

Other domestic routes, especially hub-to-hub service and certain non "United p.s." transcontinental flights regularly see internationally configured aircraft with BusinessFirst (and sometimes GlobalFirst) 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 "BusinessFirst" and United p.s., these flights are eligible for complimentary premier upgrades.

United p.s.[edit]

Main article: United p.s.

p.s. (short for "Premium Service") is a sub-brand for transcontinental flights between Newark and Los Angeles or San Francisco. Initially launched in 2004, these flights utilize specially configured Boeing 757-200s, with 180-degrees-flat BusinessFirst seats. The premium cabin also features international style catering, while all seats have access to inflight wi-fi, on demand entertainment, and power outlets. BusinessFirst passengers also have access to the United Clubs at Newark, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.[180] The p.s. cabin features BusinessFirst flat-bed seats as well as slimline economy seats identical to the ones on the Boeing 787. Every seat has access to on-demand entertainment, Wi-Fi, and power ports.

All p.s. flights were moved from New York JFK to Newark Liberty Airport on October 25, 2015.[181]

United p.s. routes are not eligible for complimentary Premier upgrades, although MileagePlus members can upgrade using Regional Premier Upgrade e-certificates, Global Premier Upgrade e-certificates, or miles.[182]

United First and United Business[edit]

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 most Caribbean destinations, the premium cabin is branded as United Business. The cabin features a seat similar to the original international BusinessFirst seat, but without the personal reading lamps, entertainment units, or legrests. The seats have a 38 in (96.5 cm) pitch (37" on newer A319s and 737s and 39" on newer A320s due to the new slimline seats, and 53" on domestic configured 777s), and passengers receive priority boarding and baggage handling, pre-departure beverages, free meals and separate check-in desks.[183]

In 2015, United released their 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.[184]

Economy Plus[edit]

Economy plus seats on a Boeing 767.

United Economy Plus is available on all aircraft in the domestic and international fleet, as well as United Express aircraft equipped with a first class cabin (CRJ700s, Embraer E-Jets and some Bombardier Q400s). Economy Plus seats are located in the front few rows, including bulkheads, and overwing exit rows of the economy cabin and have 2 inches more recline and at least 5 inches of additional seat pitch (6 inches on some aircraft) totaling 4-7 inches of recline (aircraft dependent) and approximately 36 inches of pitch (35 inches on newer configured Airbus A319/A320s and 37 inches on Boeing 787s due to the economy pitch on those aircraft). Economy Plus is available for free to all MileagePlus Elite members. 1K, Platinum and Gold members may select an Economy Plus seat when booking. Silver members can select an Economy Plus seat at check-in.[citation needed] It can also be purchased depending upon availability by other passengers. United kept the "Economy Plus" seating for the combined carrier after the merger.[185]

Economy Class[edit]

New slimline economy seats on an Airbus A320-200.
Older economy seats on a Boeing 747; these seats can also be found on domestically configured Boeing 777 as well as some Boeing 757 and Boeing 767 aircraft.

United Economy seats are 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 (aircraft dependent). 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 767-300, Boeing 767-400, Boeing 777 and Boeing 787s feature a personal a 7 inches (18 cm) touchscreen television at the back of each seat, featuring United Private Screening AVOD, with the exception of select 3-cabin 767-300 aircraft, where economy features looped entertainment on a 5 inches (13 cm) screen. Domestically configured Boeing 757 and a few Boeing 737 aircraft feature overhead entertainment. On Airbus A319, A320, select Boeing 737, Boeing 747, and domestically configured Boeing 777 aircraft feature personal device entertainment, and WiFi. On Boeing 747-400s, entertainment is also provided by main-screen TVs above the aisles above the seats. 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.[186] 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 will offer free snacks on domestic, Caribbean, and Latin America flights beginning in February 2016.[187]

Frequent flyer services[edit]


Main article: MileagePlus

MileagePlus is the frequent flyer program for United Airlines[188]

United Club[edit]

Main article: United Club

The United Club is the airline lounge associated with United Airlines and United Express carriers. United Clubs feature snacks, hot foods, beverages, and many areas to relax. The United Club replaced the former United Red Carpet Club and Continental Airlines Presidents Club prior to the merger with Continental.


Among United's subscriptions that passengers pay an annual fee for:

  • Free bag check annual subscription[189]
  • Economy Plus access annual subscription[189]

Accidents and incidents[edit]

1930s NC13304 Flight 6 Flight 4[190] NC13323[191] NC13355[192]
1940s Flight 521 Flight 608 Flight 624
1950s Flight 129 Flight 610 Flight 615 Flight 409 Flight 629 Flight 718 Flight 736
1960s Flight 826 Flight 859 Flight 297 Flight 823 Flight 389 Flight 227 Flight 266
1970s Flight 553 Flight 2860 Flight 173
1980s Flight 811 Flight 232 Flight 2885
1990s Flight 585 Flight 826
2000s Flight 175 Flight 93
2010s Flight 812

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