Jeff Smisek shares his thoughts on the United–Continental merger
WALTER VARNEY WAS a U.S. aviation pioneer who started up one airline in 1926 and another in 1934.
Decades later, those carriers-United Airlines and Continental Airlines-are both subsidiaries of a common holding company, United Continental Holdings Inc., and together carry passengers farther than any other airline in the world. This new airline will operate under the United Airlines name with aircraft carrying the Continental globe logo, livery and colors. We sat down with Jeff Smisek, president and CEO of the new United, to discuss what’s going on with the biggest airline merger in history.
Where are we today in the merger process?
We’ve done a lot already. We’ve been busy with integration planning since June, and we closed the legal merger on October first. But most of the actual integration work is still ahead of us. We need to harmonize every imaginable aspect of the two airlines. We expect to be able to handle each other’s customers this spring. However, it will take about twelve to eighteen months until we have a company that works and looks like one airline.
What changes should air travelers expect to see during the merger integration?
One of our big goals is to make the merger integration effortless for our customers and to bring benefits to our customers as quickly as we can. You will start to see some changes occur gradually. We have already started painting airplanes so they all look alike, which means the airplane you fly on today might have our combined livery already and thus look different from the Continental or United jet you are accustomed to. We are going to gradually align our programs, policies and procedures so that we have a unified product offering at the conclusion of the integration process.
What do you have in store for frequent flyers?
There are three main areas where frequent flyers will see differences. First is the network. We now have a lot more scope to take people where they want to fly, around the world. Second are the frequent-flyer programs, OnePass and Mileage Plus. We are working on plans to combine them next year into one program that will be the best one out there. Third are the airport lounges. The Presidents Club and Red Carpet Club will be merged to create a comprehensive network of lounges where members can relax before, between or after their flights. We also plan to invest in our clubs to modernize them and make them even more appealing to our customers.
How does it feel to be in charge of one of the world’s largest airlines?
It’s exciting to be able to help build the world’s leading carrier. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all of my coworkers. Our combined network is very impressive and provides enormous utility for global travelers. But for me the issue isn’t how big we are. There are two things that stand out for me as being most important: having clean, safe and reliable operations with great customer service, and having an airline where my coworkers enjoy coming to work, working together and doing a good job for our customers. Those are the areas where I am going to be focusing because they will make the travel experience great for our customers and will make the new United successful.
What will be your strategy for success?
Both United and Continental are great airlines. The new United will have an unmatched network, a young and fuel-efficient fleet, the best new aircraft order book among U.S. global carriers, the world’s leading frequent- flyer program and the best people in the business. We will focus on the basics that have always mattered to employees and customers: a working- together culture based on dignity, respect and direct; open and honest communication; clean, safe and reliable air transportation; and industry-leading products and services.
More information about the United-Continental merger is available at www.united.com.