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United Airlines (USA)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
United Airlines, Inc.
IATA ICAO Callsign
Founded April 6, 1926; 91 years ago (1926-04-06) (as Varney Air Lines)[1]
Commenced operations March 28, 1931[2]
AOC # CALA014A[3]
Focus cities
Frequent-flyer program MileagePlus
Alliance Star Alliance
Fleet size 748
Destinations 342
Company slogan "Fly the Friendly Skies"
Parent company United Continental Holdings
Headquarters Willis Tower, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Key people
Revenue US$ 36.556 billion (2016)[9]
Operating income US$ 4.338 billion (2016)
Net income US$ 2.263 billion (2016)
Total assets US$ 39.210 billion (2015)
Total equity US$ 2.396 billion (2015)
Employees 86,000 (2016)
Website united.com

United Airlines, Inc., commonly referred to as United, is a major U.S. airline headquartered in Chicago, Illinois.[10][11][12] It is the world's third-largest airline when measured by revenue, after American Airlines and Delta Air Lines.[citation needed] United operates a large domestic and international route network, with an extensive presence in the Asia-Pacific region.[13] United is a founding member of the Star Alliance, the world's largest airline alliance.[citation needed] Regional service is operated by independent carriers under the brand name United Express. Its main competitors are American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Alaska Airlines, and Southwest Airlines.[citation needed]

United was founded in 1926 as Varney Air Lines[1] and was later known as United Air Lines (UAL).[14] Just before the use of the United Airlines name, The Boeing Company operated a predecessor airline.[clarification needed][citation needed]

United has nine hubs, with ChicagoO'Hare being its largest in terms of both passengers carried (16.8 million in 2016) and number of departures (181,488 in 2016).[15] United operates maintenance bases in Cleveland and Orlando.[16]

The company employs over 86,000[9] people while maintaining its headquarters in Chicago's Willis Tower.[17] Through the airline's parent company, United Continental Holdings, it is publicly traded under NYSEUAL with a market capitalization of over US$21 billion as of January 2018.[18]


United traces its roots to Varney Air Lines (VAL), which Walter Varney founded in 1926 in Boise, Idaho. Continental Airlines is the successor to Speed Lanes, which Varney had founded by 1932 and whose name changed to Varney Speed Lines in 1934. VAL flew the first privately contracted air mail flight in the U.S. on April 6, 1926.[19][20][21]

In 1927, William Boeing founded Boeing Air Transport to operate air mail routes under contract with the United States Post Office Department.[22] In 1929, Boeing merged his company with Pratt & Whitney to form the United Aircraft and Transport Corporation (UATC) which then set about buying, in the space of just 28 months, Pacific Air Transport, Stout Air Services, VAL, and National Air Transport, as well as numerous equipment manufacturers at the same time.[23][24] On March 28, 1931, UATC formed United Air Lines, Inc. as a holding company for its airline subsidiaries.[25]

In 1933, United began operating the Boeing 247 airliner.[26] It was able to fly a transcontinental flight in 20 hours, making it 50 percent faster than its predecessors.[27] After passage of the Air Mail Act in 1934, which barred common ownership of airplane manufacturers and airlines, UATC was broken up. All manufacturing interests east of the Mississippi became United Aircraft (the future United Technologies), while all manufacturing interests west of the Mississippi became a revived Boeing Airplane Company. UATC's former airline interests were folded into a single airline, 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] From 1953 until 1970 United offered "men only" flights which forbade children and women (with the exception of two female flight attendants per flight). The airline allowed passengers to smoke and offered complementary cigars as well as drinks, and a steak dinner.[30][31][32]

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.[33]

United merged with Capital Airlines in 1961, which helped United to regain its position as the "number one airline" in the U.S. In 1968, United Airlines became a subsidiary of the UAL Corporation. United experienced several periods of labor unrest during the 1970s, and the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 forced United to scale down its operations to remain profitable.[23]

In 1982, United became the first carrier to operate the Boeing 767, taking its first delivery of 767-200s on August 19.[34] In May 1985, the airline underwent a 29-day pilot strike over management's proposed "B-scale" pilot pay rates.[35]

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,.[36] 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.[23][37] In 1994, United's pilots, machinists, baggage handlers, and non-contract employees agreed to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), acquiring 55 percent of company stock in exchange for 1525 percent salary concessions. This made the carrier the largest employee-owned corporation in the world.[38] United also launched low-cost subsidiary Shuttle by United in 1994, which was a high frequency, west coast-based carrier that remained in operation until 2001.[23]

In 1995, United became the first airline to introduce the Boeing 777 in commercial service.[39] In 1997, United co-founded the Star Alliance airline partnership. In May 2000, United announced a plan to acquire US Airways for US$11.6 billion, but withdrew the offer in July 2001 before the United States Department of Justice barred the merger on antitrust grounds due to widespread objection from employee unions, customers, and political leaders.[23][40] 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.[41]

During the September 11, 2001, attacks, two of the four airliners hijacked and crashed by al-Qaeda members were United aircraft. United Airlines Flight 175 was flown into the south World Trade Center tower. United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a field in Pennsylvania after the passengers fought back against the hijackers. An airline industry downturn resulted. Economic problems, skyrocketing oil prices, and higher labor costs caused United to lose US$2.14 billion in 2001. That 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.[citation needed] United filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on December 9, 2002.[42] United then furloughed thousands of workers, closed its U.S. city ticket offices, cancelled several existing and planned routes, downsized its Miami operations, and closed some maintenance bases.[citation needed] The carrier also negotiated labor cuts with employees,[42] suppliers, and contractors. United terminated feeder contracts with United Express carriers Atlantic Coast Airlines and Air Wisconsin.[citation needed] In 2005, United cancelled its pension plan in the largest such default in U.S. corporate history.[42] On September 7, 2005, United announced that it had raised US$3 billion in financing to exit bankruptcy and filed its Plan of Reorganization. United emerged from bankruptcy on February 1, 2006.[42]

In 2004, United launched a new low-cost carrier named Ted[42] and a premium p.s. coast-to-coast service on re-configured Boeing 757 aircraft.[citation needed] On June 4, 2008, United announced the closure of its Ted unit and reconfigured the subsidiary's aircraft for a return to mainline configuration.[43][44]

In late 2006, Continental Airlines and United had preliminary merger discussions.[45][46] On April 16, 2010, those discussions resumed.[47] The board of directors of Continental and UAL Corporation agreed on May 2, 2010, to combine operations, contingent upon shareholder and regulatory approval. While United would be the surviving airline, the merged airline would adopt Continental's logo and livery. Continental's chief executive officer (CEO) Jeff Smisek would head the new company.[48] The merger was approved by the European Commission in July 2010 and by the U.S. Justice Department on August 27, 2010.[49][50] On September 17, 2010, United's shareholders approved the merger.[51] On October 1, 2010, the UAL Corporation changed its name to United Continental Holdings, Inc.[52] The carriers planned to begin merging their operations in 2011.[53] The merged airline began operating under a single air operator's certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration on November 30, 2011[54] 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.[55]

In October 2015, United appointed Brett J. Hart as its acting CEO, four days after CEO Oscar Munoz suffered a heart attack.[56]

Corporate identity

Original brand image

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.[57] The logo represented the airline's monogram as well as a modernized version of the airline's shield logo[58] 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.[59]

Marketing themes

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.[60] 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.[60] On September 20, 2013, United announced a return of the "Fly the Friendly Skies" slogan in an ad campaign to start the following day.[61] 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.[60]

United licensed its theme song, "Rhapsody in Blue", from Gershwin's estate for US$500,000 (equivalent to $2,150,292 in 2017) in 1976.[62] "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.[63]


United sponsors six of Chicago's seven major professional sports teams: the Chicago Bears, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Chicago Bulls, the Chicago Fire Soccer Club, the Chicago Sky, and the Chicago White Sox.[citation needed] Its sponsorship of the Chicago Cubs ended in 2015.[64]

United is the official airline of the New York Giants.[65] Through its merger with Continental Airlines, United became the official airline of the Brooklyn Nets, the Buffalo Bills, the Cleveland Indians, the Cleveland Browns, the Golden State Warriors, the Los Angeles Angels, the Los Angeles Rams, the New York Giants, and the Denver Broncos. United also sponsors the New Jersey Devils, the Houston Dynamo, the Houston Texans, and the Houston Astros.[citation needed] United is a sponsor of the New York Road Runners, including its New York City Half Marathon.[66] United also is the official airline of the United States Olympic Team.[67]

In January 2018, United and the University of Southern California announced a 16-year, US$69 million contract to change the name of the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to "United Airlines Memorial Coliseum" beginning in August 2019.[68]

Corporate affairs


In 2007, United moved its headquarters and 350 top executives from Elk Grove Township, a suburb of Chicago, to 77 West Wacker Drive in the Chicago Loop[69] after receiving US$5.5 million in incentives frim the City of Chicago.[70] The Elk Grove campus became an operations center after several of United's offices in suburban Chicago were considated there.[71]

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 known as the Sears Tower) in the Chicago Loop..[70] On May 31, 2012, United opened its operations center, which occupied twelve floors of the Willis Tower.[72]

Other facilities

The Elk Grove Township former headquarters campus was gradually annexed into the Village of Mount Prospect,[73][74] and now serve as an IT operations facility, including a new 172,000 sf. data center constructed on the property in 2013.[75] United also continues to maintain a large presence in downtown Houston, and announced in 2016 that it would be leasing 225,000 sf of space (seven floors) for occupancy in late 2017.[76]

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

United formerly owned the Waikiki Seaside Hotel, a hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii which was used by its flight crews and was sold in February 2012.[77]

Environmental efforts

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

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.[78]

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.[79]

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.[80]

On June 30, 2015, United invested US$30 million in Fulcrum BioEnergy, an alternative fuel company. Fulcrum's alternative fuel is produced through a clean and efficient thermochemical process and reduces lifecycle carbon emissions by more than 80 percent. As part of its investment, United will work with Fulcrum to develop up to five alternative fuel refineries near its U.S. hubs. These refineries will produce up to 180 million gallons of sustainable aviation alternative fuel per year, and United will have the opportunity to purchase at least 90 million gallons per year for a minimum of 10 years, making it the largest aviation alternative fuel commitment to date.[81]

On March 11, 2016, United became the first airline in the world to fly on commercial-scale quantities of such fuels on a continuous basis, which were procured from AltAir Fuels. This fuel was produced from sustainable feedstocks such as non-edible natural oils and agricultural wastes, and is expected to provide a greater than 60 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions on a lifecycle basis when compared to traditional jet fuel. United has agreed to purchase up to 15 million gallons of sustainable alternative fuel from AltAir Fuels for use in Los Angeles over a three-year period.[82]

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.[83]

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.[84]


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,[85][86] which struck down a scope clause that disallowed Continental from outsourcing the flying of regional jets with 70 or more passenger seats.[87]

Animal transport

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.[88][89] United flies more animals and has a greater stage length than any other US airline, and accounted for one-third of animal deaths of US airlines between 2012 and 2017.[90]

Cyber security

United awarded airline miles as "bug bounties" to hackers who could identify gaps in the carriers 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, Uniteds 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.[91][92]


Current hubs

United operates eight domestic hubs and one international hub.[93]

  • Chicago O'Hare International Airport O'Hare is United's largest hub and its hub for the Midwest. United flies approximately 36 million passengers through O'Hare every year, which is about 99,000 people per day,[94] making it also the busiest airline at the airport. United's corporate headquarters are also in Chicago.
  • George Bush Intercontinental Airport located in Houston, is United's 2nd largest hub. It is the airline's hub for the Southern United States and primary gateway to Latin America.[95] About 33.5 million passengers fly through IAH on United every year, or about 91,000 people per day.[95] United currently has about 78% of the seat share at Bush, making it the airport's largest tenant.[96] Houston was also previously Continental's biggest hub before the United-Continental merger.[97]
  • Newark Liberty International Airport The third largest hub for United in terms of number of flights and destinations and United's primary hub for the East Coast and a gateway to Europe, Latin America and Asia.[98] About 24 million passengers fly on United through Newark every year, or about 65,000 people per day. United controls about 81% of the slots at Newark and carries about 68% of all passengers at the airport.[99][100] Newark was previously Continental's second biggest hub before the United-Continental merger.[97] United controls all of Terminal C and uses part of Terminal A for United Express Flights.
  • Denver International Airport The fourth largest hub in terms of number of destinations and flights and United's primary hub for the central and western United States.[101] United flies approximately 24.5 million passengers through DIA every year, which is about 67,000 people per day.[101] As of December 2016, United has about 42% of the market share at DIA making it the airport's biggest airline. United occupies all 70 gates of Concourse B at the airport.[102] DIA was previously United's second biggest hub before the United-Continental merger.[97] Currently, Denver is the only domestic hub without service to Europe. However, the carrier announced in July 2017 it will relaunch nonstop service from Denver to London's Heathrow Airport in 2018 using a Boeing 787. Star Alliance partner Lufthansa operates nonstop service to both Frankfurt and Munich, Germany. Copa Airlines, also a Star Alliance partner, will soon operate nonstop service to Panama City, Panama. Both airlines operate with a United code share agreement. United also operates Denver's only transpacific service, with a daily flight to Tokyo Narita Airport.
  • San Francisco International Airport The fifth largest 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 and Australia.[103] About 22 million passengers pass through SFO every year on United, which is about 60,000 people per day.[103] United has about 46.1% of the market share at San Francisco International, making it the biggest airline at the airport.[104] San Francisco was previously United's third biggest hub before the United-Continental merger.[97]
  • Washington Dulles International Airport The sixth largest 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.[105] United has about 65.2% of the market share at Washington Dulles, making it the largest airline at the airport.[106] About 14 million passengers fly through Dulles every year on United, which is about 38,465 people per day.[105] Dulles was previously United's fourth biggest hub before the United-Continental merger.[97]
  • Los Angeles International Airport The seventh largest 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.[107] About 10 million passengers fly through LAX on United every year, or about 28,000 people per day.[107] United has 14.80% of the market share at LAX, making it the third biggest carrier at the airport.[108] LAX was previously United's fifth biggest hub and smallest domestic hub before the merger integration of United-Continental.[97]
  • Guam A. B. Won Pat International Airport The eighth largest hub in terms of number of destinations and flights and United's hub for the Pacific.[93] Guam was previously Continental's smallest hub under the brand name Continental Micronesia, among its four-then hubs prior to the integration of United-Continental.
  • Tokyo Narita International Airport The ninth largest hub in terms of number of destinations and flights and United's hub for Asia.[93] Narita was previously United's smallest hub, among its six-then hubs before the United-Continental merger.[97]
Former hubs
  • Cleveland Hopkins International Airport United Airlines maintained a secondary East Coast hub in Cleveland until 1985, when it 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 and its 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 and the close proximity to the Chicago-O'Hare hub.[109]
  • 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.[110]
  • 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.[111]


United operates to 235 destinations and 138 international destinations in 60 countries across Asia, the Americas, Europe, and Oceania. United's domestic route network operates from seven hubs. United also has international hubs in Guam and Tokyo.[112] The carrier's scheduled services to Africa have been discontinued since June 30, 2016.[113]

UA hubs listed by departures including UA Express (Qtr. 3: 2017)
Rank Airport Flights Destinations
1 ChicagoO'Hare 528[94] 188[94]
2 HoustonIntercontinental 483[95] 171[95]
3 Newark 398[98] 162
4 Denver 370[101] 136[101]
5 San Francisco 273[103] 130[103]
6 WashingtonDulles 214[105] 113[105]
7 Los Angeles 138[107] 62[107]
8 Guam 30[112] 10[112]
9 TokyoNarita 12[112] 09[112]

United inaugurated service to Accra, Ghana on June 20, 2010, which was the carrier's first African destination.[114] This service was extended to Lagos, Nigeria on December 12, 2010,[115] with nonstop service commencing on November 16, 2011, and terminating on December 18, 2011.[116] United terminated services to Accra altogether on July 3, 2012.[116] United's last remaining service to Africa, between Houston and Lagos, was terminated on June 30, 2016.[113]


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 was then approved.[117] 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 launched flights in October 2014.[118] On February 28, 2014, the USDOT tentatively granted approval for the airline's San Francisco-Tokyo-Haneda route,[119] which launched on October 26, 2014.[120]

United has nonstop flights to Hong Kong and to Beijing, Xi'an, Chengdu, and Shanghai on the Chinese mainland from its hubs in Chicago, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco, and Washington, D. C. On May 20, 2011, the airline was authorized to operate between Los Angeles and Shanghai.[121] On June 9, 2014, the airline introduced nonstop service between Chengdu and San Francisco, operated with Boeing 787 aircraft.[122] On May 8, 2016, United began nonstop seasonal service between Xi'an and San Francisco.[123]

On January 29, 2016, United introduced a daily nonstop service between San Francisco and Singapore, operated with Boeing 787 aircraft. United is the first U.S. airline to offer nonstop flights between the U.S. and southeast Asia. This is the longest flight operated by a U.S carrier. United's preexisting service between Singapore and Tokyo-Narita was terminated.[124][125]


United has service to Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, both with daily flights from Los Angeles and daily flights to Sydney from San Francisco. United also launched service to Auckland, New Zealand from San Francisco on July 1, 2016.[126]

On January 18, 2018, United began daily service between Houston and Sydney on Boeing 787-9 aircraft.[127]

United has an "island hopper" service that operates as Flights 154 and 155. It operates between Guam and Honolulu, with intermediate stops at Majuro, Kwajalein (refueling stop only), Kosrae (twice a week only), Pohnpei, and Chuuk. A Boeing 737-800 is used to operate on this service.[128]


As of May 2016, United serves 27 cities in the western, southern and northern parts of Europe with direct year-round or seasonal flights, most of them from Newark, Chicago-O'Hare or Washington-Dulles.[129] The country with the most airports served is the United Kingdom with 5 destinations,[130] followed by Germany with 4 destinations.[129] Services to Copenhagen, Denmark were terminated in September 2012. United ended service to Belfast on January 9, 2017[131] and Birmingham on October 5, 2017.[132]

Middle East

United offers service to Tel Aviv from Newark and San Francisco. United previously launched service to Kuwait City via Bahrain on April 18, 2010[133] and Doha via Dubai on May 1, 2012.[134] Services to Bahrain, Kuwait City, Doha and Dubai were terminated due to competition from Middle Eastern airlines.[135]


During winter months, United has made a point of increasing its flights into regional airports that serve ski resorts, such as Aspen, Bozeman, 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.[136]

United had requested to do a slot swap at New York-JFK and New York-Newark (EWR) by giving Delta its 24 JFK slots in return for 24 of Delta's EWR slots. 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.[137]

Codeshare agreements

As of October 2016, United codeshared with the following airlines:[138]

Longest non-stop flights

On 1 June 2016, United launched nonstop flights between San Francisco and Singapore.[139] On 1 June 2017, United announced its Los Angeles/Singapore nonstop service.[140] On 7 September 2017, United announced that it will begin daily, nonstop service between Houston and Sydney on 18 January 2018. With this addition United flies the three longest flights by a U.S. carrier.[141]

Rank Distance USA Foreign Flight
1 8,770 miles (14,110 km; 7,620 nmi) Los Angeles Singapore UA37 Boeing 787-9
2 8,596 miles (13,834 km; 7,470 nmi) Houston Sydney UA101
3 8,447 miles (13,594 km; 7,340 nmi) San Francisco Singapore UA1


Current fleet

As of February 17, 2018, United's fleet consisted of the following:[142]

United Airlines mainline fleet
Aircraft In service Orders Passengers Ref Notes
F C Y+ Y Total
Airbus A319-100 67 14 8 42 78 128 [143] 15 remaining aircraft to be acquired from China Southern Airlines.
Airbus A320-200 99 12 42 96 150 [144] One aircraft painted in "United Friend Ship" retro livery.
Airbus A350-900 45[145]
Order converted from 35 A350-1000 to 45 A350-900.
Deliveries scheduled to begin from late 2022 to 2027.[146]
Replacing the non-extended range versions of the Boeing 777-200.
Boeing 737-700 40 12 40 66 118 [147] To be reconfigured into 126-seat configuration.[148]
36 78 126 [149] One aircraft painted in Star Alliance livery.
Boeing 737-800 141 16 48 90 154 [150]
48 102 166 [151] Two aircraft painted in Star Alliance livery.
54 96 166 [152]
16 42 108 166 [153] Guam-Manila island hopper and Honolulu-Guam via Majuro, Kwajalein, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Chuuk configuration.
Boeing 737-900 12 20 42 117 179 [154]
Boeing 737-900ER 136 20 51 96 167 [155] Three aircraft painted in March of Dimes, Eco Skies and Continental Airlines Retro liveries.
42 117 179 [154]
39 120 179 [156]
Boeing 737 MAX 9 61[157] 20 48 111 179 [158] Deliveries begin in 2018.
Boeing 737 MAX 10 100[157]
Converted from original 737 MAX 9 orders.
Deliveries begin in 2020.[159]
Boeing 757-200 56 16 45 108 169 [160]
28 42 72 142 [161] United p.s. configuration.
Older aircraft to be replaced by Boeing 737 MAX.
Boeing 757-300 21 24 57 132 213 [162]
Boeing 767-300ER 35 3[163] 6 26 71 80 183 [164] To be reconfigured into 2-class configuration with new Polaris seats.
30 49 135 214 [165]
30 46 138 214 [166] Installed with new Polaris seats.
Boeing 767-400ER 16 39 63 140 242 [167]
Boeing 777-200 19 28 102 234 364 [168] To be phased out starting 2022 and replaced by the Airbus A350-900.
Boeing 777-200ER 55 8 40 113 108 269 [169]

3-class planes to be reconfigured into 2-class configuration with new Polaris seats.

50 72 145 267 [170]
Boeing 777-300ER 14 4[157] 60 102 204 366 [171]
Boeing 787-8 12 36 70 113 219 [172]
Boeing 787-9 25 1 48 88 116 252 [173]
Boeing 787-10 14[157]
Deliveries begin in 2018.[174]
Total 748 242

On September 22, 2012, United became the first U.S. airline to take delivery of Boeing 787 aircaft.[175] United also is the North American launch customer for the Boeing 787-9[176] and 787-10 aircraft,[177] which are stretched versions of the base 787-8 model.

On July 20, 2011, American Airlines announced an order for 460 narrowbody jets, including 260 Airbus A320s.[178] The order broke Boeing's monopoly with the airline and forced Boeing into the re-engined 737 MAX.[179] This sale included a Most-Favoured-Customer Clause, which requires Airbus to refund to American any difference between the price paid by American and a lower price paid by United or another airline. This perpetuates United's having a Boeing-skewed fleet.[180]

Historical fleet
United Airlines retired fleet[181]
Aircraft Introduced Retired Replacement Notes
Boeing 40A 1927 1937 Launch customer
Operated as under name of Boeing Air Transport[182] also operated by Varney Air Lines
Boeing 80A 1928 1934 Unknown Launch customer
Operated as under name of Boeing Air Transport
Boeing 247 1933 1942 Unknown Launch customer
All 59 of the base model were built for United Airlines[183]
Boeing 377 Stratocruiser Unknown 1954 Unknown
Boeing 720 1960 1976 Boeing 727 Launch Customer.
Boeing 727-100 1963 1993 Boeing 737-500
Boeing 727-200 Unknown 2001 Airbus A320 family
Boeing 737-200 1968 2001 Airbus A320 family
Boeing 737-300 1986 2009
Boeing 737-500[184] 1990 2009
Boeing 737 Next Generation
The United 737-500 fleet had been retired by 2009.
The 737-500s inherited from the merger with Continental Airlines were retired in May 2013.
2012 2013
Boeing 747-100 1970 1999 Boeing 777-200/-200ER
Boeing 747-200 1987 2000 Boeing 777-200ER
Boeing 747-400 1989 2017 Boeing 777-300ER The last United 747, dubbed the "Friendship" was taken on a hub to hub tour around the United States, before taking a final ticketed flight from SFO-HNL, the first ever route that a United 747 took.
Boeing 747SP 1985 1995 Boeing 747-400
Boeing 777-200
Taken over from Pan American World Airways.
Boeing 767-200 1982 2005 Launch Customer.
Boeing 767-200ER[185] 2012 2013 Boeing 787-8 Inherited from Continental Airlines.
Convair 340 Unknown 1968 Unknown
Douglas DC-3 Unknown Unknown Unknown
Douglas DC-6 1947 1970 Unknown Fleet included DC-6 and DC-6B aircraft
Douglas DC-7 Unknown 1964 Unknown
Douglas DC-8 1959 1992 Boeing 757-200 Largest DC-8 operator.
Fleet included stretched DC-8 "Super 60" series and re-engined "Super 70" series aircraft.
United accomplished the re-engining of its Super DC-8 fleets.
One crashed in 1960 as United Airlines flight 826.
Ford Trimotor Unknown Unknown Unknown Operated in 1931 on a transcontinental route between New York City and San Francisco.[186]
Lockheed L-1011 TriStar[187] 1986 1989 McDonnell Douglas DC-10 Taken over from Pan American World Airways
After retired, all fleets were disposed to Delta Air Lines.
McDonnell Douglas DC-10 1971 2001 Boeing 777-200/-200ER Launch Customer.
Fleet included original DC-10-10 variants and DC-10-30 variants.
One crashed in 1989 as United Airlines flight 232.
Sud Aviation Caravelle 1961 1970 Boeing 727
Boeing 737 Original
Only U.S. operator of the Caravelle in scheduled passenger service
Laird Swallow J-5 Unknown Unknown Unknown Single seat biplane used to carry US Air Mail (CAM 5) by predecessor Varney Air Lines.[188]
Vickers Viscount Unknown 1969 Boeing 727
Boeing 737 Original
Former Capital Airlines aircraft.
Only mainline turboprop aircraft type ever operated by United Airlines.


United Polaris first class service

On December 1, 2016, the airline's "United Polaris first class service" replaced "Unied Global First" on international flights[189] that use Boeing 777-200 and 767-300 aircraft.[190] The updated first class seats, which are manufactured by Zodiac Seats U.S., are identical to the airline's updated business class seats.[190]

United has stopped selling first class on all longhaul international flights departing after April 30, 2018, even on aircraft that have first class cabins.[191]

United Polaris Business

United Polaris Business is offered on all wide-body aircraft, as well as all Boeing 757-200s. United Polaris Business passengers check in at separate counters and can use priority security screening where available. On international flights, in-flight services include pre-departure beverages, table linens and multi course meals designed in partnership with Charlie Trotter-affiliated chefs via the airline's partnership with the Trotter Project.[192] Passengers are also given priority with boarding and baggage handling and access to the United Polaris Lounge where available, as well as the United Club and partner airline lounges when traveling on international routes. All Polaris Business seats recline 180 degrees into a full, flat bed. On select Boeing 777-200ER and Boeing 767-300ER aircraft, the seats alternate facing forward and backwards. On the Boeing 787, Boeing 767-400, Boeing 757-200 and select Boeing 767-300ER and Boeing 777-200ER aircraft, all seats face forward.[citation needed]

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

On June 2, 2016, United introduced its new, redesigned international business class seat that will replace current business class seats. The new United Polaris Business seat will be featured on Airbus A350-900, Boeing 777-300ER, and Boeing 787-10 aircraft, and will be retrofitted later on Boeing 767, Boeing 777-200ER, and Boeing 787 aircraft. The Polaris seat converts into a 6' 6" flat bed in a 1-2-1 configuration, 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.[193]

United p.s.

p.s. (short for "Premium Service") is a sub-brand for transcontinental flights between Newark and Los Angeles or San Francisco, as well as, since July 1, 2017, from Boston to San Francisco.[194] Initially launched in 2004, these flights utilize Boeing 757-200s, with 180-degrees-flat Polaris Business seats. The premium cabin also features international style catering, while all seats have access to inflight wi-fi, on demand entertainment, and power outlets. Business class passengers also have access to the United Club at Newark, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.[195]

All p.s. flights were moved from New York JFK to Newark Liberty Airport on October 25, 2015.[196]

United p.s. routes are not eligible for Complimentary Premier upgrades, although MileagePlus members can upgrade using Regional Premier Upgrades, Global Premier Upgrades, or MileagePlus award miles.[197]

Since July 2017, passengers in Economy Plus get a complimentary hot entree, dessert, fruit, pre-arrival snack, and alcoholic beverages.[194]

United First and United Business

United First is offered on all domestically configured aircraft. When such aircraft are used on international services such as services to Canada, Central America and the Caribbean destinations, this cabin is branded as United Business. United First seats on narrowbody aircraft have a 38 in (96.5 cm) 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.[198]

In 2015, United released its new domestic first class seat design. The new leather seats feature cradling headrests, granite cocktail tables, and a tablet stand. These seats will debut on Airbus A319 and Airbus A320 aircraft, and will eventually be installed on all domestic aircraft.[199]

Economy Plus

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 4-7 inches of recline (aircraft dependent) and 35-37 inches 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.[200] 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.[201]

Economy Class

United Economy is available on all aircraft, and usually have a pitch of 31 inches (30 inches on aircraft refurbished with Slimline seats, and 32 inches on Boeing 787s) and a recline of 2-5 inches. All economy seats feature an adjustable headrest and some form of entertainment, ranging from AVOD, inflight wi-fi, personal device entertainment, or overhead entertainment. Economy seats on Boeing 767, Boeing 777 and Boeing 787 aircraft feature a personal 7 inches (18 cm) touchscreen television at the back of each seat with United Private Screening. Boeing 757-300 and select Boeing 737 aircraft feature overhead entertainment. On Airbus A319, A320, select Boeing 737, select Boeing 757-300 and domestically configured Boeing 777 aircraft feature personal device entertainment, and WiFi. Other Boeing 737 and Boeing 757-300 aircraft feature DirecTV.[202]

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.[203] 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.[204]

Basic Economy

United Basic Economy is available on select routes and in addition to standard fares. Basic Economy tickets are limited to travel between Minneapolis/St. Paul and seven of United Airlines' U.S. hubs (Chicago O'Hare, Denver, Houston Bush International, Los Angeles, New York/Newark, San Francisco and Washington Dulles).[205][206] Intended to be United's lowest fare, Basic Economy fares provide most of the same inflight services and amenities with standard United Economy Class.[207] With Basic Economy, group/family seating, seat selection/upgrades and bringing full-sized carry-on bags are not allowed. Also, certain MileagePlus and Premier member benefits are not available.[208]

Reward services

MileagePlus is the frequent flyer program for United Airlines.[209]

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 the merger with Continental.[citation needed]

Accidents and incidents

1930s NC13304 Flight 6 Flight 4[210] NC13323[211] NC13355[212]
1940s 41-24027 Flight 521 Flight 608 Flight 624
1950s Flight 129[213] 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 696 Flight 173
1980s Flight 811 Flight 232 Flight 2885 Flight 2415
1990s Flight 585 Flight 6291 Flight 5925 Flight 826 Flight 863
2000s Flight 175 Flight 93
2010s Flight 3411

Controversies and customer service problems

United has been involved in several instances of controversy and customer service problems in recent years. Examples include:

  • In 2008, United baggage handlers broke Canadian musician Dave Carroll's guitar. After nine months fruitlessly trying to resolve the situation, Carroll released three songs about the incident. The first, United Breaks Guitars, has over 17 million views as of 2017, and caused a significant public relations embarrassment for the airline.[214]
  • In 2012, Jim Stanek, a war veteran who returned from Iraq with a traumatic brain injury and severe PTSD allegedly was accosted by United customer service personnel. According to Stanek, they asked if he was "retarded" and kicked his service dog. A spokesperson from United said, "We are reaching out to the customer directly to discuss the events that he described."[215][216][217][218][219][220]
  • On a 2015 flight, Tahera Ahmad, a Muslim chaplain and director of interfaith engagement at Northwestern University, was refused an unopened beverage on the grounds that she might use the pop top as a weapon. The airline later apologized.[221][222]
  • In 2015, United removed a teenage girl with autism and her family from a flight without apparent justification, according to several American news organizations. The hashtag #boycottunited trended on Twitter and the ABC News coverage of the incident received over 10,000 comments in a 24-hour period, mostly critical of the airline.[223][224][225][226]
  • In April 2017, a young continental giant rabbit named "Simon" was found dead in his crate following a flight between London-Heathrow and Chicago-O'Hare.[227][228]
  • In May 2017, United apologized after a flight attendant thought she observed a passenger fondling his five-year-old son's genitals. The man said that he planned to sue the airline.[229]
  • In June 2017, a honeymooning couple on a United flight from Newark to Venice spotted fuel pouring out of the port wing of the aircraft as it was taxiing to the runway. After informing the cabin crew, they were told that it was "normal". The flight was eventually cancelled, and the passengers got vouchers for a hotel and food. The couple who reported the incident, however, claimed that they were treated very harshly and were provided only with a meal voucher, forcing them to sleep on the floor of the luggage area.[230]
  • In July 2017, United was criticized for giving away a toddler's seat on a flight from Houston to Boston, which caused the toddler to have to sit on his mother's lap throughout the flight.[231]
  • In August 2017, United apologized after a family's dog died in the cargo hold of its plane. The aircraft's takeoff in Houston was delayed for two hours because of bad weather. The aircraft's air conditioning system malfunctioned, causing the dog's death..[232]
  • In December 2017, a United frequent flyer who had secured a first class seat from Houston to Washington, D. C. alleged that the airline had changed her reservation to another flight, apparently to accommodate travel by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.[233] According to United, internal logs showed that the passenger personally canceled her flight through the United application and that Jackson Lee was given the seat through an automatic upgrade. The passenger denied that she canceled.[234] On December 25, United issued an apology and a $500 voucher to the flyer.[235]
United 3411

On the evening of April 9, 2017, a revenue passenger was forcibly removed by law enforcement from United Airlines flight 3411 at Chicago-O'Hare, bound for Louisville.[236] United announced that it needed four seats for airline staff on the sold-out flight.[237] When no passengers volunteered after being offered vouchers worth $800, United staff selected four passengers to leave. Three of them did so, but the fourth, a doctor named David Dao, declined as he said that he had patients to treat the following morning. He was pulled from his seat by Chicago Department of Aviation security officers and dragged by his arms down the aisle. Dao sustained a concussion, broken teeth, a broken nose, and other injuries.[238] The incident was captured on smartphone cameras and posted on social media, triggering an angry public backlash. Afterwards, United's chief executive officer, Oscar Munoz, described Dao as "disruptive and belligerent", apologized for "re-accommodating" the paying customers, and defended and praised staff for "following established procedures". He was widely criticized as "tone-deaf".[239] Munoz later issued a second statement calling what happened a "truly horrific event" and accepting "full responsibility" for it.[240] 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.[241] Following this incident, passenger complaints increased by 70 percent.[242]

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