United Airlines, Inc. (commonly referred to as United) is a major U.S. airline headquartered at Willis Tower in Chicago, Illinois. United operates a large domestic and international route network spanning cities large and small across the United States and all six inhabited continents. Measured by fleet size and the number of routes, it is the third-largest airline in the world after its merger with Continental Airlines in 2010.
United has eight hubs, with Chicago–O'Hare being its largest in terms of passengers carried and the number of departures. It is a founding member of the Star Alliance, the world's largest airline alliance with a total of 28 member airlines. Regional service is operated by independent carriers under the brand name United Express. The United brand name 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.
In late 2006, Continental Airlines and United had preliminary merger discussions. On April 16, 2010, those discussions resumed. 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. The carriers planned to begin merging their operations in 2011. The merged airline began operating under a single air operator's certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration on November 30, 2011. 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. On June 27, 2019, the parent company's name changed from United Continental Holdings to United Airlines Holdings.
In January 2021, Chief Executive Scott Kirby put forward the possibility for the company to mandate employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine while cautioning the potential difficulties in implementing the mandate. The company was the first major US airline to announce a vaccine mandate for all staff on Aug 6, at which point over 80% of flight attendants and 90% of pilots had been vaccinated, according to statements of the respective unions. Days before the internal deadline of Sept 27, the company announced that more than 97% of the US based staff were vaccinated.
United operates flights to 238 domestic destinations and 118 international destinations in 48 countries or regions across five continents. By spring 2021, United will once again fly regularly to all 6 inhabited continents following the reinstatement of scheduled year-round flights to Africa.
Chicago–O'Hare – United's hub for the Midwest and largest hub overall. United controls 47% of the market share in O'Hare, making it the largest carrier at the airport. United's corporate headquarters are also in Chicago.
Denver – United's hub for the Rocky Mountain region of the United States. United has about 42% of the market share in Denver, making it the largest carrier at the airport. By number of flights it has become United's largest hub in 2021.
Guam – United's hub for flight routes in the Pacific region. United has about 98.8% of the market share at Guam International, making it the largest carrier at the airport.
Los Angeles – United's secondary hub for the West Coast and gateway to Asia and Australia. United has 15% of the market share at LAX, making it the third-largest carrier at the airport.
Newark – United's primary hub for the East Coast and gateway to Europe, while including other select flights to Latin America, Africa, and Asia. United has 68% of the market share at Newark, making it the largest carrier at the airport. Former Continental Airlines hub.
San Francisco – United's primary hub for the West Coast and gateway to Asia and Australia. United has about 46% of the market share at San Francisco International, making it the largest carrier at the airport.
Washington–Dulles – United's secondary hub for the East Coast. United has about 65% of the market share at Washington Dulles, making it the largest carrier at the airport.
As of May 2021, United Airlines operated a fleet of 834 aircraft with an additional 49 aircraft planned or on order[needs update]; all of which are either Boeing or Airbus.
On July 20, 2011, American Airlines announced an order for 460 narrowbody jets, including 260 Airbus A320s. This order broke Boeing's monopoly with the airline and forced Boeing to proceed with plans for the re-engined 737 MAX. 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.
On September 22, 2012, United became the first American airline to take delivery of Boeing 787 aircraft. United is also the North American launch customer for the Boeing 787-9 and 787-10 aircraft, 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.
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; they could be replaced by 737 MAX 10s, A321neos, Boeing NMAs, 787-8s or A330-800s.
On June 3, 2021, United announced that a deal had been confirmed with Boom Supersonic to purchase at least 15 of their Overture supersonic airliners & potentially up to 50 in total. These aircraft will be flown on 100% sustainable fuels. The aircraft are intended to enter service with United in 2029 & are expected to be the first supersonic airliners to fly domestically for an airline since the Concorde was retired with British Airways & Air France in 2003.
On June 29, 2021, United announced an order for 270 aircraft valued at around $15 billion: 150 737 MAX 10 aircraft, 50 737 MAX 8 aircraft, and 70 A321neo aircraft. As new aircraft arrive, the airline also announced these will include AVOD (Audio and Video On Demand) screens on every seat, as well as the retrofit of all mainline aircraft to include AVOD screens by 2025. United has also announced the retirement of older mainline aircraft and at least 200 single-class regional aircraft. The 737 MAX 8 aircraft debuts with the airline this summer while 737 MAX 10 and A321neo aircraft start delivery in 2023. United also expects to create 25,000 union jobs, mostly in United States hubs locations, by 2026. The order would be valued at $35.4 billion based on the listed price of the jets.
United Polaris business class seat on the Boeing 777-300ER
United Premium Plus seat on the Boeing 787-8
Economy plus seats on a Boeing 767
New slimline economy seats on an Airbus A320-200
United Polaris Business
On June 2, 2016, United introduced its new, redesigned international business class seat that will replace current business class seats. The Polaris seat converts into a 6' 6" flatbed 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.
United Polaris Business passengers check in at separate counters and can use priority security screening where available. 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. 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. All Polaris Business seats recline 180 degrees into a full flatbed, all seats face forward.
Other domestic routes, especially hub-to-hub service and certain non "United p.s." transcontinental flights, may see internationally configured aircraft with United Polaris Business seating for operational reasons (such as transferring international aircraft from one hub to another or high demand). 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 Business, these flights are eligible for complimentary premier upgrades.
United Premium Plus
United Premium Plus is United's premium economy product, that is being retrofitted on wide-body international aircraft. United Premium Plus seating offers more space, comfort and amenities compared to United Economy or Economy Plus, and offers upgraded dining on china dinnerware, free alcoholic beverages, a Saks Fifth Avenue blanket and pillow, an amenity kit and more. The first aircraft with these seats were flying in mid-2018, and the full service launched in 2019. During the interim period, these seats were sold as part of Economy Plus.
Domestic routes, especially hub-to-hub service may see internationally configured aircraft with United Premium Plus seating for operational reasons. Premium Plus seats are sold as Economy Plus seats. While the physical seats and entertainment are the same as on international flights, the service catering and other amenities are the same as in Economy Plus.
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 Business class 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.
All premium transcontinental flights were moved from New York JFK to Newark Liberty Airport on October 25, 2015.
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.
United First is offered on all domestically configured aircraft. When such aircraft are used on international services such as services to Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean (excluding Puerto Rico) 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.
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 debuted on Airbus A319 and Airbus A320 aircraft, and will eventually be installed on all domestic aircraft.
In 2019, It was announced that United is increasing first and business class seats "by 1,600" across all their aircraft in their fleet, to include the Bombardier CRJ550 for which United is the launch customer of.
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. 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.
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 DirecTV. Economy seats on Boeing 767, Boeing 777 (except domestic 777-200s), Boeing 787, and 757-200 aircraft feature a personal 7-inch (18 cm) touchscreen television at the back of each seat with United Private Screening. On Airbus A319, A320, Boeing 737, Boeing 757-300, and domestically configured Boeing 777 aircraft feature personal device entertainment and WiFi. Some Boeing 737 aircraft feature DirecTV.
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. Beverages and small snacks are complimentary in economy class on North America flights. Alcoholic beverages are available for purchase on North America flights but are complimentary on long-haul international flights. On flights where meals are served, a cocktail snack with a beverage is served shortly after takeoff, followed by a main course and dessert. Longer international flights feature a pre-arrival meal, which usually consists of a light breakfast or snack.
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. 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 a regular Economy. Also, certain MileagePlus and Premier member benefits are not available.
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.
Then 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. On May 31, 2012, United opened its operations center, which occupied twelve floors there.
In 2019 United renewed its lease at Willis Tower, originally ending in 2028 and now set to expire in 2033, and plans to construct a roof deck and a 30,000 sq ft (2,800 m2) dining hall on the fourth floor.
The former headquarters campus at Elk Grove Township was gradually annexed into the Village of Mount Prospect, and serves as an IT operations facility, with a new 172,000 sq ft (16,000 m2) data center constructed in 2013.
United maintains a large presence in downtown Houston, having leased 225,000 sq ft (20,900 m2) of space (seven floors) for occupancy in 2017.
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.
On September 24, 2020, United Airlines announced that it will roll out a new COVID-19 testing program for passengers from October 15 that year. Initially, testing was only available for passengers traveling to Hawaii from San Francisco International Airport.
The pre-merger United logo, commonly nicknamed the "tulip", was developed in the early 1970s by the designer Saul Bass as part of a new brand image. The logo represented the airline's monogram as well as a modernized version of the airline's shield logo 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.
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", which was in use until 1996 in its first iteration. 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, when United announced a return of the "Fly the Friendly Skies" slogan in an ad campaign to start the following day. 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.
United had licensed its theme song, "Rhapsody in Blue", from Gershwin's estate for US$500,000 (equivalent to $2,380,994 in 2021) in 1976. "Rhapsody" would have entered the public domain in 2000, but the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 extended its copyright another 20 years until January 1, 2020, when it officially entered on the Public Domain.
United announced that it would continue to use "Rhapsody in Blue" as its theme song following the merger with Continental.
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.
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.
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.
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 U.S. gallons (680 million liters) of sustainable aviation alternative fuel per year, and United will have the opportunity to purchase at least 90 million U.S. gallons (340 million liters) per year for a minimum of 10 years, making it the largest aviation alternative fuel commitment to date.
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 U.S. gallons (57 million liters) of sustainable alternative fuel from AltAir Fuels for use in Los Angeles over a three-year period.
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.
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.
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, which struck down a scope clause that disallowed Continental from outsourcing the flying of regional jets with 70 or more passenger seats.
In January 2021, as a plan to reduce its costs in 2023, United Airlines offered its employees voluntary leave options with pay or health benefits.
In April 2021, United Airlines announced that within the next decade, half its pilots would be female or people of color.
Concerns and conflicts
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. 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.
Effective March 20, 2018, the PetSafe program was suspended with no new reservations for cargo transport of pets accepted. This came after United announced plans to mark pet carriers in the passenger cabin with bright tags and legislation was introduced in the United States House of Representatives and United States Senate banning the placement of pets in overhead compartments. 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.
Cyber security issues
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 cybersecurity program was announced a few weeks after 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.
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.
In February 2021, United Airlines was fined $49 million by the Department of Justice on charges of fraud on postal service contracts for transportation of international mail. According to investigators, between 2012 and 2015 United submitted delivery scan data to make it appear that United and its partner airlines complied with International Commercial Air requirements with accurate delivery times when in fact they were automated delivery scans with aspirational delivery time. Some employees within United worked to hide this fact from the USPS.
United Airlines Flight 976 was a regularly scheduled flight from Ministro Pistarini International Airport, Buenos Aires to John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City on October 19, 1995. Prior to takeoff, investment banker Gerard Finneran became disruptive after consuming two glasses of champagne, began threatening crew members and attempted to pour his own drinks, against airline and federal regulations. After takeoff, Finneran was served two more glasses of red wine, after which the crew refused to serve him more alcohol due to his apparent intoxication. When his requests for more alcohol were denied, Finneran pushed over a female flight attendant, climbed onto a service trolley, took off his pants and defecated, used linen napkins as toilet paper, wiped his hands on various service counters and tracked feces throughout the aircraft, after which he entered a lavatory and locked himself in.
A request to divert to Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was denied due to the security risks created by the presence of the President of PortugalMário Soares, Argentinian foreign ministerGuido di Tella and their security details on the flight. Finneran was arrested by the FBI after landing in New York and charged with interfering with a flight crew and threatening a flight attendant. He later pleaded guilty to the latter charge and was fined $5,000 (having previously agreed to reimburse the airline for its cleanup costs and all the other passengers their airfare, which amounted to nearly $50,000) and given two years' probation The incident was later dubbed the worst ever case of air rage.
On the evening of April 9, 2017, a passenger was forcibly removed by law enforcement from United Airlines flight 3411 at Chicago-O'Hare, bound for Louisville. United announced that it needed four seats for airline staff on the sold-out flight. 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 and a broken nose among other injuries. The incident was captured on smartphone cameras and posted on social media, triggering angry public backlash. Afterwards, United's then-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". Munoz later issued a second statement calling what happened a "truly horrific event" and accepting "full responsibility" for it. 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. Following this incident, passenger complaints increased by 70 percent.
^Eldred v. Ashcroft, 01 U.S. 618, p. 67 (Supreme Court January 15, 2003) ("Even the $500,000 that United Airlines has had to pay for the right to play George Gershwin's 1924 classic Rhapsody in Blue represents a cost of doing business, potentially reflected in the ticket prices of those who fly.").