Airline Merger: We All Gotta Ride it Out

Now that United Airlines agreed to merge with Houston based Continental Airlines to create the world’s largest carrier, reaction in Houston to the proposed deal is mixed. Area lawmakers are concerned what impact it will have on Houston’s economy. Continental employees hope they still have a job, and airline passengers wonder if ticket prices will change. Pat Hernandez has the story.


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Jeff Smisek and Glenn TiltonJeffrey Smisek: “United and Continental are the right partners at the right time. So, let’s fly together.”

That’s current Continental Airlines CEO Jeffery Smisek at a press conference formally announcing the proposed merger of Continental with United Airlines. Smisek would run the new United, but current United head Glenn Tilton would hold the title of non-executive chairman for at least two years. But before the ink was even dried, the two seemed at odds when discussing what impact the marriage would have on services and prices.

Smisek: “This is not a merger predicated on increasing fares. This is a merger predicated on being more competitive, and more global and providing an unparalleled network.”

Glenn Tilton: “I just draw your attention to two interesting questions. Over here, we had a question about 86-dollar oil and over here, we had a question as to whether or not you think you might be able to raise fares. Fares have to be responsive to 86-dollar oil. What goes in, its gotta be compensated before it comes out.”
Houston congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee expressed disappointment that the merger means the end of Continental and the new airline would be based in Chicago.

Congressman Gene Green says he realizes some jobs will be affected.

“I wanna see that the new United will also have that infrastructure here in Houston, because a lot of us have invested many years in Continental. We’re very loyal, and will continue to be loyal, just so you continue to provide jobs in our area.”

At Bush airport, some Continental employees declined comment for the sake of their job. But others were willing, on the condition of anonymity.

Woman 1: “Well, what can you do?” 

Woman 2: “I think, personally, we’re getting sold down the toilet — the flight attendant and the pilot group. I know
I’ll still have a job because I’ve been here a long time. I’m afraid that the reputation of what they have become over the years. United is gonna fall back on us Continental people that always did a good job.”

PH: “Your comment on the merger?”

Woman 3: “I’m trying to be positive. I’d like to be a huge airline. We’re a little worried about what we might lose and what might change.”

Woman 4: “Basically the same thing, just worried about changes. Change isn’t good when you’ve been here as long as we have.”

Man 1: “I don’t think it’s gonna change the public’s perception here in Houston. I hope not. It’s a good operation, we want it stay that way.”

Passengers I talked to were hoping for the best as well:

Female passenger 1: “The flights are usually very comfortable. They’re very good for flying with children, their boarding policies are very good.”

Male passenger: “We have to look at the negative—job loss. There’s gonna be a lot of sad and mad people at the same time, but you have to accept it; go with the flow.”

Female passenger 2: “It’s just a big old wave. We all gotta ride it out, right?”

If it passes regulatory muster, the United-Continental merger would be the 20th acquisition of another carrier by a major airline since Congress deregulated the industry in 1978.

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