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Continental Airlines
Continental Airlines Logo.svg
Founded May 1934; 89 years ago (1934-05)
(as Varney Speed Lines)
Commenced operations July 8, 1937; 86 years ago (1937-07-08)
Ceased operations March 3, 2012 (2012-03-03)
(merged into United Airlines)
Frequent-flyer program OnePass
Parent company
  • Texas Air Corporation (1981–1991)
  • United Continental Holdings (2010–2012)
Key people
  • Robert Six
    (chairman and CEO, 1936–1981)
  • Frank Lorenzo
  • Jeff Smisek
  • Walter Varney (founder)
  • Louis Mueller (founder)
  • Gordon Bethune
  • Larry Kellner

Continental Airlines, simply known as Continental, was a major American airline founded in 1934 and eventually headquartered in Houston, Texas. It had ownership interests and brand partnerships with several carriers.

Continental started out as one of the smaller carriers in the United States, known for its limited operations under the regulated era that provided very fine, almost fancy, service against the larger majors in important point-to-point markets, the largest of which was Chicago/Los Angeles. However, deregulation in 1978 changed the competitive landscape and realities, as noted by Smithsonian Airline Historian R. E. G. Davies, "Unfortunately, the policies that had been successful for more than forty years under (Robert) Six's cavalier style of management were suddenly laid bare as the cold winds of airline deregulation changed all the rules—specifically, the balance between revenues and expenditures."

In 1981, Texas International Airlines acquired a controlling interest in Continental. The companies were merged in 1982, moved to Houston, and grew into one of the country's largest carriers despite facing financial and labor issues, eventually becoming one of the more successful airlines in the United States.

Continental and United Airlines merged in an $8.5 billion all-stock merger of equals on October 1, 2010. Continental's shareholders received 1.05 per share in United stock for each Continental share they owned. Upon completion of the acquisition, UAL Corporation changed their name to United Continental Holdings. During the integration period, each airline ran a separate operation under the direction of a combined leadership team, based in Chicago. The integration was completed on March 3, 2012. Although the merged airline retained the United name, it uses Continental's operating certificate and livery. On June 27, 2019, United changed its parent company name from United Continental Holdings to United Airlines Holdings.

Corporate identity


United Airlines Boeing 777-200 Meulemans
United 777-200ER in new livery (2010-2019) after merger with Continental Airlines

The designer Saul Bass designed the Continental "Jet Stream" logo in the late 1960s. In the 1990s, the design agency Lippincott introduced the globe logo. Before it merged, Continental's livery consisted of a white fuselage, with the globe in blue and gold, and a gray underside. The combined United Airlines adopted the pre-merger Continental Airlines livery and logo following the merger.


  • Work Hard. Fly Right. (1998–2012)
  • More Airline for Your Money (mid-1990s)
  • One Airline Can Make a Difference (early 1990s – introduced with the "Globe" livery)
  • Working to Be Your Choice (1989)
  • Up Where You Belong (1987)
  • The Only Airline Worth Flying (1985)
  • We Really Move Our Tail for You (1975–1979)
  • If You Can't Fly Continental, Try to Have a Nice Trip Anyway (1970s)
  • The Airline That Pride Built (1968)
  • The Proud Bird with the Golden Tail (1967–1981)

Company affairs


Chicago United Continental Building 07
77 West Wacker Drive, the airline's final headquarters

On October 31, 1937, Continental moved its headquarters to Stapleton Airport in Denver, Colorado. Robert F. Six arranged to have the headquarters moved to Denver from El Paso, Texas, because Six believed that the airline should have its headquarters in a large city with a potential base of customers.

The Continental Center I in Houston, with the airline logo displayed, and the KBR Tower

At a 1962 press conference in the office of Mayor of Los Angeles Sam Yorty, Continental Airlines announced that it planned to move its headquarters to Los Angeles in July 1963. In 1963 Continental's headquarters moved to a two-story, $2.3 million building on the grounds of Los Angeles International Airport in Westchester, Los Angeles. The July 2009 Continental Magazine issue stated that the move "underlined Continental's western and Pacific orientation."

On July 1, 1983, the airline's headquarters were relocated to the America Tower in the Neartown area of Houston, and would remain there until they ended up relocating in 1998. Stephen M. Wolf, the president of Continental said that the company moved its headquarters because Houston became the largest hub for Continental.

In January 1997, Continental occupied 250,000 square feet (23,000 m2) of space at the America Tower. In addition it had 200,000 square feet (19,000 m2) of office space in a building in proximity to George Bush Intercontinental Airport and 75,000 square feet (7,000 m2) in a building located on Fuqua Road in Houston. The airline planned to move into a new headquarters site; originally it wanted a single site for its operations. In September 1997, the airline officially announced that it would consolidate its Houston headquarters in Continental Center I. The airline scheduled to move around 3,200 employees in stages beginning in July 1998 and ending in January 1999. The airline consolidated the headquarters operation at the America Tower and three other local operations into Continental Center I and Continental Center II in the Cullen Center. Bob Lanier, Mayor of Houston, said that he was "tickled to death" by the airline's move to relocate to Downtown Houston.

After the September 11 attacks and by September 2004 Continental laid off 24% of its clerical and management workers. Despite the reduction of the workforce, Continental did not announce any plans to sublease any of its space in Continental Center I and Continental Center II.

In 2008 Continental renewed its lease for around 450,000 square feet (42,000 m2) in Continental Center I. Before the lease renewal, rumors spread stating that the airline would relocate its headquarters to office space around George Bush Intercontinental Airport due to high fuel costs affecting the airline industry; the rumors stated that the airline was studying possibilities of less expensive alternatives to Continental Center I. The parties did not reveal the terms of the lease agreement.

In 2010, Continental Airlines and United Airlines announced that they would merge and that the headquarters of the combined company would be in the Chicago Loop in Chicago. The airline has not stated how much of the 480,000 square feet (45,000 m2) of space that it leases in Continental Center I will be vacated. As of 2010 Continental had around 3,000 clerical and management workers in its Downtown Houston offices. According to Nicole Bradford of the Houston Business Journal, some believe that the airline will vacate and leave thousands of square feet of space in Downtown Houston empty. As of 2010 Continental leases 450,000 square feet (42,000 m2) in Continental Center I, about 40% of the tower's office space. United has begun to move employees to a new operations center in the Willis Tower (former Sears Tower) and one thousand are expected by the end of 2010. As of September 2011 Continental continues to have employees at Continental Center I, which is now a former headquarters. About half of the existing employee base will remain in the building. As of September 2011 Continental continues to occupy space at Continental Center I, now a former headquarters, and another building. Half of the previous number of employees will work in Downtown Houston. Some job positions were eliminated. Some employees were transferred to Chicago.

Environmental record

Continental Airlines made efforts to minimize the negative environmental effects of commercial aviation. For example, the carrier invested over $12 billion for the purchase of 270 fuel-efficient aircraft and related equipment that made up part of the airline's fleet. These efforts contributed to significant reductions of greenhouse gas and noise emissions. Continental Airlines was also one of the first carriers in the world to fit winglets to as much of its fleet as it could, reducing fuel burn by 3–5%.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's "Design for the Environment" program recognized Continental in 2008 for use of a non-chromium aircraft surface pre-treatment that is environmentally compatible. Continental Airlines was the first carrier in the world to utilize this technology on their aircraft. The product, "PreKote", eliminates hazardous chemicals that are usually used in the pre-treatment phase before painting an aircraft. This technology provides improved environmental conditions for maintenance employees, while also reducing wastewater.

Continental Airlines conducted flight tests using aircraft powered by biofuel rather than traditional Jet-A1. On January 7, 2009, Continental partnered with GE Aviation to conduct a biofuel demonstration flight, making the airline the first U.S. carrier to conduct tests using biofuels. The test bed, a Boeing 737-800 (registered as N76516), ran one of its engines on a mix of 50% kerosene, 6% algae oil, and 44% oil from jatropha, a weed that bears oil producing seeds. The engine running partly on biofuel burned 46 kg (101 lb) less fuel than the conventional engine in 1+12 hours while producing more thrust using the same volume of fuel. Continental's CEO, Larry Kellner, commented "This is a good step forward, an opportunity to really make a difference to the environment" citing jatropha's 50–60% lower CO2 emissions as opposed to Jet-A1 in its lifecycle.

Continental Airlines was recognized by NASA and Fortune magazine for positive environmental contributions.


  • No. 1 Most Admired Global Airline; Fortune Magazine (2004–2009)
  • No. 1 Most Admired U.S. Airline; Fortune Magazine (2006–2007, 2010)
  • No. 1 Greenest U.S. Airline; Greenopia (2009)
  • No. 1 Pet-Friendly Airline; Petfinder (2009)
  • Best Executive/Business Class; OAG Airline of the Year Awards (2003–2007, 2009)
  • Best Airline Based in North America; OAG Airline of the Year Awards (2003–2009)
  • Best U.S. Carrier Trans-Atlantic and Trans-Pacific Business Class; Condé Nast Traveler (1999–2006)
  • Best Airline for North American Travel; Business Traveler Magazine (2006–2009)
  • Best Large Domestic Airline (Premium Seating); Zagat Airline Survey(2008)
  • Best Value for the Money (International); Zagat Airline Survey (2009)
  • Highest-Ranked Network Airline; J.D. Power and Associates (2007)
  • Airline of the Year; OAG (2004–2005)
  • Business Leadership Recycling Award; American Forest & Paper Association (2010)


Continental, together with Continental Express and Continental Connection, offered more than 2,400 daily departures throughout the Americas, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. The summer 2008 schedule saw Continental serving 130 domestic and 132 international destinations.

Continental Airlines operated primarily a hub-and-spoke route network with North American hubs in Cleveland, Houston, and Newark, and a west Pacific hub in Guam. The majority of Continental flights were operated from its hubs. Some affiliated airlines used the Continental Connection name also operate flights not involving hubs, such as Gulfstream International Airlines, which operated intra-Florida and Florida-Bahamas services.

Terminal E Waiting area
Continental was the dominant operator at Houston Intercontinental Airport

For almost 40 years, Continental operated a very large hub in Denver, Colorado, but took the decision to close that hub in 1995 immediately after the opening of Denver International Airport (DIA), which represented a significantly higher-cost operation than the former Stapleton Airport, which DIA had replaced. The abrupt nature of this change came as a shock to Denver, which was experiencing dramatic growth. The void left by Continental's departure allowed the establishment of the "new" Frontier Airlines (a startup, rather than the original carrier of that name). Both Frontier and Southwest Airlines (which entered the Denver market after Continental's dehubbing) expanded quickly to fill the vacuum created by Continental's closing of its Denver hub.

For the first forty years of its existence, Continental was a domestic airline; however, especially after the incorporation of Texas International routes, it served more Mexican destinations than any other U.S. carrier since the mid-1980s.

Continental first entered the transatlantic market in April 1985, with the introduction of a Houston-London-Gatwick service. Long prevented from serving London Heathrow Airport because of the provisions of the Bermuda II agreement, which only allowed British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, United Airlines and American Airlines to operate flights from Heathrow to the United States, Continental maintained its London services at Gatwick, where in 2007 as many as six flights a day were offered to Newark, Houston, and Cleveland.

In March 2008, an Open Skies Agreement between the U.S. and the European Union became effective, invalidating Bermuda II restrictions that had limited the number of carriers and cities in the U.S. that could serve London-Heathrow. In November 2007 Continental announced that new, nonstop, twice-daily service from its hubs at George Bush Intercontinental Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport to London-Heathrow would be offered; and this service was inaugurated on March 29, 2008. The service replaced existing frequencies to London-Gatwick and were offered with a combination of Boeing 777-200ER and 757-200 equipment, with flat beds guaranteed in the BusinessFirst cabin. By the time of its merger with United, Continental had grown its presence at London-Heathrow to seven daily flights; two to Houston-Intercontinental and five to Newark.

Bush terminal E
Continental operated international flights from Terminal E at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.

During the Vietnam War, Continental's extensive military charter operations established a presence in the Pacific region that formed the basis for the Air Micronesia operation. Service to Japan was initiated in the 1970s from Guam and Saipan, and by the late 1980s, nonstop service between Seattle and Tokyo was briefly offered with 747 equipment, soon to be replaced with a direct Honolulu-Tokyo (Narita) flight. Through the 1990s, Continental maintained a minimal presence in the long-haul trans-Pacific market, until the delivery of 777-200ERs in 1998 which saw the addition of nonstop Tokyo service from Houston and Newark. By 2007, Hong Kong and Beijing were added to the network, and in 2009 Shanghai was added, all from the Newark hub. Continental has served Australia in the past with DC-10 and Boeing 747 service from Hawaii, with some flights via Auckland. Continental withdrew from much of the Australasian market, but continues Air Micronesia Boeing 737-800 services between Cairns and Guam on a 4x weekly basis. Beginning in June 2011, it initiated service to Hilo, Hawaii, providing that city the only nonstop air service to and from any destination outside the state of Hawaii.

Continental offered the most destinations of any of the U.S. carriers to Germany, India, Ireland, Japan, Mexico and the United Kingdom, and was the only U.S. airline that flew to the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, and Norway. Continental began service from Newark to Mumbai, India on October 1, 2007, making that city Continental's second Indian destination.

Codeshare agreements

Continental Connection Beechcraft 1900

Continental was a minority owner of ExpressJet Airlines, which operated under the "Continental Express" trade name but was a separately managed and public company. Chautauqua Airlines also flew under the Continental Express identity, and Cape Air, Colgan Air, CommutAir, and Silver Airways fed Continental's flights under the Continental Connection identity. Continental did not have any ownership interests in these companies.

In addition to Continental Express and Continental Connection, Continental had codeshare agreements with the following airlines (as of February 2012):

Former agreements
  • Air France (ended with Continental's withdrawal from SkyTeam)
  • Alitalia (ended with Continental's withdrawal from SkyTeam)
  • America West Airlines (ended on May 1, 2002, citing low code-shared flight sales)
  • Czech Airlines (ended with Continental's withdrawal from SkyTeam)
  • Delta Air Lines (ended with Continental's withdrawal from SkyTeam)
  • KLM (ended with Continental's withdrawal from SkyTeam)
  • Korean Air (ended with Continental's withdrawal from SkyTeam)
  • Northwest Airlines (ended with Continental's withdrawal from SkyTeam)
  • Spanair (ended with Spanair's collapse in January 2012)
Continental Connection Bombardier Q400
A Continental Connection Bombardier Q400.

The operators of Continental Connection were:

  • Cape Air operated out of San Juan (SJU), Puerto Rico, to other Puerto Rican destinations, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and Nevis. It also serviced routes from Guam to Saipan, Saipan to Rota and Rota to Guam.
  • Colgan Air operated out of Cleveland, Houston and Newark as a subsidiary of Pinnacle Airlines Corp.
  • CommutAir operated mostly from Continental's Cleveland and Newark hubs.
  • Gulfstream International Airlines operated in the Bahamas, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa, West Palm Beach, Tallahassee, Pensacola, and Key West. Also operated some flights under the Essential Air Service program from Continental's Cleveland hub.
  • Silver Airways


Continental's all-Boeing fleet consisted of four types (737, 757, 767, and 777) in ten variants, with two variants of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner scheduled to enter service in 2011. The company's daily aircraft utilization was usually at the top of the industry.

As of October 1, 2010, at the time of the merger, the Continental Airlines fleet consisted of the following aircraft with an average age of 9.5 years.

Images for kids

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Continental Airlines para niños

  • Air transportation in the United States
  • Independent Association of Continental Pilots
  • List of airlines of the United States
  • List of defunct airlines of the United States
  • List of airports in the United States
  • Transportation in the United States
  • United Airlines
  • Northwest Airlines
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