(photo credit: (United))
The October merger of United Airlines and Continental may have huge implications for the global commercial aviation sector, but for passengers flying to or from Israel, little will change, according to Charles Duncan, Vice President of Sales — Transatlantic, Middle East & India for United.
“Since United Airlines never flew to Israel, the merger will not affect the joint company’s service and we will continue to fly the same schedule that Continental flew,” he said Sunday at a press conference in Tel Aviv. “The changes will be for the most part cosmetic. Already planes are coming in with a new paint job, featuring the new name and logo. Apart from that, there will be a change in the signs and in the staff uniforms, but no changes to the team, the schedule or the aircraft. Even the phone number will remain the same.”
The new airline will be called United Airlines and have Continental’s livery, logo and colors.
Duncan said the new airline, which is the biggest in the world, is too busy dealing with the implications of the merger to consider expanding its service beyond the current two daily flights between Tel Aviv and Newark.
One of the biggest pluses of the merger was the lack of overlap between the two airlines on international routes, he said.
“We had zero overlap between the two companies on international routes and only 12 routes that overlapped in the continental United States,” he said. “Because there was such little overlap, it means that there are no redundancies when it comes to the field offices and thus no firings.”
Duncan said the new company, which flies nearly 6,000 flights a day on a fleet of 800 planes, plans to complete the merger process by the end of the year and operate as one company starting in 2012.
“The merger will allow us a great deal of flexibility, even within the current flight schedule,” he said. “We can switch between planes of different sizes depending on the demand in a given country and the economic situation at any given time.
“This gives us a benefit in rerouting passengers, which is necessary, as we saw just in recent months with natural conditions like snowstorms on the [US] East Coast or volcanoes in Europe, affecting international flight patterns.”
When asked if the new company had plans to sign aviation agreements with Israeli airlines, Duncan said they were happy to remain competitors.
“I think the governing authorities are also happy having us compete with each other,” he said. “In the end it benefits the passengers to have a number of carriers to chooses from.”
Duncan expressed confidence that passengers would continue to choose to
fly with United Airlines after the merger, even if it takes a while for
name recognition to sink in.
“We work hard to be Israel-friendly, offering kosher meals and Hebrew-speaking staff,” he said.
Duncan said people who have collected frequent-flyer miles on either
United Airlines or Continental would continue to accumulate points and
enjoy their benefits even after the merger. The two frequent-flyer
programs would also merge, he said.
Duncan said the biggest challenge facing the aviation industry was the
rising price of oil. He said United was relatively better off than most
airlines in that regard, because it possessed the youngest and most
fuel-efficient fleet of aircraft.