Wednesday, April 11

The New United Airlines

With my new job, I've been doing a fair amount of traveling lately ... visiting all of our offices across North America so I have been in and out of airports more than normal.  I'm a pretty loyal guy when it comes to airlines, so if cost and timing allow I try to stick to Continental in/out of Newark, NJ.  It's just comfortable for me, and it's very hard to get any comfort in air travel these days.

I've been loyal to "Continental" for decades ... back when it was People Express and then Eastern Airlines and then branded Continental.  Of course now it's United Airlines as a result of that recent merger.

Mergers are never easy.  Bringing together two corporate cultures, business systems, operation methodologies, etc is very hard to accomplish.  There are lots of growing pains, more than we could ever imagine.  The problem is when your consuming public actually sees those growing pains, it can severely impact (in this case) the travel experience and it can really wear on any brand loyalty.

The actual physical merger of Continental and United has been visibly hard ... and in many cases the consumer has suffered.  I see it in the long lines and the arguments at check-in.  I read about it in blogs of wait-listed passengers and lost luggage.  I feel it from the flight attendants who just seem road weary and over it.  None of that leads to a positive brand experience.

I'm going to hang in there and assume that these truly are just growing pains.  I'm a loyal customer, merger after merger, so I am giving this new brand a fair shake.  But loyalty shouldn't be tested for too long in marketing, as the competition is likely to come along with a better story and experience.  Like all my friends are telling me about Jet Blue.  Hmmmm.

What's your experience?  Jim.

Jim Joseph
President, Cohn & Wolfe North America
Author, The Experience Effect and The Experience Effect for Small Business
Professor, NYU

PS - Join me for my free "Small Business Boot Camp" sponsored by Vocus on April 25th.  Register here!


  1. Unfortunately, it feels like the United culture has won out over the Continental culture.

    They would have been better served by watching how well Delta integrated Northwest when they merged. The result has been a much better airline, with the best of each company's cultures preserved.

  2. So true, Warren - when it comes to merging corporate cultures it isn't always the better one that wins. Jim.

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  4. My wife and I were discussing our recent United Airlines experience at the end of March. I hate to say it, but your article here accurately reflects the less than cohesive merger process we noticed. We could see the effort... but it was tough.

    The representatives at the ticketing and check-in kiosk had manuals with pen-notes through-out, in hand, just to get people checked in at a small commuter airport in Carlsbad, CA. This is hard to see, being as most use the Carlsbad Airport for the convenience and service.

    Perhaps an irony that "The Experience Effect" was my in-flight reading material.

  5. I too, was always a very loyal Continental flyer but United has just screwed them up royally. If Jet Blue had more flights, I'd be on them for every trip I take, they have the best customer service ever.

  6. Heights by great men reached and kept were not obtained by sudden flight but, while their companions slept, they were toiling upward in the night