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Lamenting the loss of the name Continental Airlines
Merger with United means end to Continental name after three-quarters of a century

Paul Gaston
Continental no more
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A couple of years ago, WKSU commentator Paul Gaston reported nostalgically on several airline names that have disappeared into the sunset. Trans World. Pan Am. Northwest Orient. But now, he says, it’s getting personal.

Lamenting the loss of the name Continental Airlines

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I no longer miss the peanuts. I’m used to the extra charges for checked bags and schedule changes. I don’t expect to be comfortable when I fly, because i know the guy in front will want to recline his seat all the way.

     But I’ve grown accustomed over the years to continental airlines. I don’t mean just the convenience of a hub airport offering direct flights to lots of places, right from Cleveland Hopkins.  I’m talking about the name--and because of the merger with united airlines that’s now in progress, it’s a name we won’t be hearing much longer.

     That seems too bad. The airline began by offering local service in the southwest, but an ambitious president in the thirties gave it an ambitious name: continental. Most airlines at the time operated point-to-point within regions of the country. Continental wanted to connect the continent! 

     It took quite a while before the airline’s routes would live up to its name. It wasn’t until the late fifties that the regulators approved flights as far east as Chicago. A decade later, continental was flying soldiers to Vietnam, but it still wasn’t flying to the east coast of the u s--still not really continental.

     A long and complicated story follows at this point: mergers, acquisitions, deregulation, bankruptcies, and reorganizations. Too long.

     But fast forward to the eighties and--to Cleveland. As united moved out, continental moved in. there’s an irony there, but never mind. What really made continental continental was its plans for sleepy Newark airport.  Continental now flies more passengers into and out of the New York metropolitan area than any other airline.

    Now even the name continental fails to describe an airline that flies all over the world.

     For just a little while longer, that is. Even now, more and more of the familiar blue and white planes carry the name united. And before long, that name will be grounded. It will rest in peace alongside National, Eastern, TWA, PAN AM, B-O-A-C, and many others.

     Oh, there’s one other small detail. That ambitious airline president that gave continental its name? He also founded another airline. United.  Perhaps it was meant to be.

    I have logged 70,000 miles already this year on continental and I am going to miss that name.  I’m not the only one.    I have seen fellow passengers pocketing napkins, swizzle sticks and other such items bearing the 74 year old name.  A fond farewell to con-tin-en-tal.

     I’m Paul Gaston. 

Related Links & Resources
Continental Airlines 1970's commercial

Listener Comments:

I agree with you. I came to Continental after years of top-level elite status with United and fell in live with the superior customer service, including the hold-out commitment to complimentary meals. As it became increasingly clear that customers did not value these amenities when choosing airlines, I lobbied to replace those free meals with high-quality, reasonably priced food for sale, and Continental did not disappoint. Even today, post-merger a salad costs several dollars less on. Continental flight than on one operating under the United label.

I will miss Continental, but I have high hopes for the new United. It is the Continental executive team that is taking over. Already, we'be seen the debut of complimentary cocktails at the Red Carpet Club to match the offerings in the Presidents Club. I'm also delighted to see the adoption by Contienental of the United systemwide upgrade, a favorite that was among just a few things that I missed when I made the switch. Time will tell. But I remain cautiously optimistic that the combined airline will incorporate the best of both worlds rather than engaging in the typical race to the bottom indulged by the industry.

Whatever the name, these guys (and gals) have what it takes to make a global splash.

Posted by: James C. Samans (Dulles, VA) on September 2, 2011 1:09AM
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