Sometime around 2 a.m. this Saturday morning, the long-familiar name of Continental Airlines will fly no more. The Continental name has already been airbrushed off (or however planes get repainted these days) the aircraft themselves, but now it’s also coming off the merged United Continental’s (NYSE:UAL) reservations system and website. From this weekend on, the traveling world will see only United.
Having closed their $3.17 billion merger more than a year ago, the newly combined companies have been busy since then working to blend their operations into one, seamless, whole. Just how seamless, however, remains to be seen. And passengers have good reason to be wary of the changeover’s final steps this weekend.
After all, turning two giant airlines into one (and now the world’s largest) requires far more than just fresh paint jobs and new logos on airplanes. And in United’s case, the planes have kept the Continental sphere logo while taking on just the United name. The far bigger — harder and messier — combination involves turning two reservation systems into one.
That’s what has passengers and travel agents on edge. As Reuters points out, US Airways (NYSE:LCC) learned this the hard way in 2007 when it went through its own transformation after buying America West two years earlier. On the other hand, Delta’s (NYSE:DAL) more recent merger with Northwest Airlines went a lot more smoothly. So, United at least has cause for hoping that it can pull off this delicate pairing without the flying public feeling much turbulence at all.
Still, as Cleveland’s Plain Dealer website notes: “Some travel agents are a bit skeptical, urging travelers to get to the airport early and prepare for headaches, especially if you’re flying on United this weekend.”
And one thing passengers can look forward to no matter what name is on the plane is higher airfares. The ongoing climb in oil prices pretty much guarantees that you’ll be paying more to fly this summer than last.