Continental Airlines will be celebrating it’s 75th anniversary on July 15th. To commemorate the occasion, the airline is taking delivery this week of a new Boeing 737-900ER, which is painted with a retro livery
The retro livery originally used on aircraft beginning in 1947 and called The Blue Skyway, was selected by Continental employees. Continental will fly the new aircraft to its three hubs at Houston, Newark and Cleveland for anniversary celebration events for employees and retirees.
The new Boeing 737-900ER will be equipped with an advanced technology GPS Landing System (GLS) that will take advantage of the new Next Generation Ground Based Augmentation System (GBAS) being installed later this year at Newark Liberty.
Continental’s 75 year history
The Early Years: Water Varney
Continental traces its history to Varney Speed Lines, started in 1934 by Walter T. Varney primarily to carry U.S. mail. On July 15, 1934, the airline launched its first flight, carrying 100 letters and no passengers between Pueblo, Colo. and El Paso, Texas. At the time, Franklin Roosevelt was president, the average U.S. annual income was about $1,600, a new car cost $625 and a gallon of gas cost 10 cents.
Walter Varney focused on the new airline’s fleet, called Continental “America’s Fastest” due to its speedier aircraft. Varney had earlier started a different airline, which became United Airlines. History has come full circle; the two carriers founded by Walter Varney will become alliance partners when Continental joins the Star Alliance later this year.
Longtime Leader: Bob Six
Varney Speed Lines became Continental Airlines in 1937 under the leadership of Robert F. Six, who captained the airline into the “jet age” and expanded its reach for more than 40 years and laid the groundwork for Continental’s reputation for top-notch service and a customer focus.
In 1944, passenger revenue exceeded revenue from carrying mail for the first time in the airline’s history. Under Six’s leadership, Continental in the late 1940s became one of the first carriers to experiment with coach fares, and established first-class “Gold Carpet Service” in the late 1950s.
Bob Six also secured a Continental stronghold in the pacific by creating Air Micronesia, which remains a wholly-owned Continental subsidiary today.
Times of Tumult
In the late 1970s, following the Airline Deregulation Act, through the early 1990s, Continental went through some of its darkest days, struggling through years of financial losses, a gaggle of challenging mergers and acquisitions, two bankruptcies, as well as labor relations that strained to the breaking point. Even through these grim times, several bright spots emerged: in 1987, Continental established its OnePass frequent flyer program, and in 1992, the airline launched its premium product, BusinessFirst, which provides first-class service at business-class fares.
Continental’s current domestic hubs were also formed during this period with Continental’s presence in Houston, which began with the airline’s first flight into the city in 1951, strengthening into a true hub. In February 1987, Continental’s merger with People Express provided the foundation for it’s hub at Newark Liberty. Continental remains the largest carrier in the New York area today. In July 1987, Continental’s Cleveland hub opened, tripling the airline’s presence in the city.
From Worst to First
Then, in 1994, Gordon Bethune became CEO and led the company through one of the most dramatic turnarounds in business history, taking it from “worst to first.”
Much as Six set the tone on customer satisfaction, Bethune brought to the forefront a culture of employees working together. Bethune and Continental’s senior management team also instituted the Go Forward Plan to make sure the whole team had their eyes on the same target. The same working-together culture and Go Forward Plan continue to underlie Continental’s success even today.
Current Chairman and CEO Larry Kellner, who has been with the company since 1995, took the helm when Gordon Bethune departed in late 2004. Larry credits Continental’s co-workers for the airline’s success in recent years and he stays focused on open, honest and direct communication with co-workers across the system, taking input from all directions as the company faces today’s opportunities and challenges. Kellner continues to focus on the fundamentals that his predecessors laid down before him: employee relations, customer satisfaction, and building a strong fleet.
During Larry Kellner tenure, Continental has received more awards for customer satisfaction than any other airline, including being named FORTUNE magazine’s most admired global airline for six consecutive years on the magazine’s annual airline industry list.
Other firsts being initiated in Continental’s 75th anniversary year are the introduction of DIRECTV(R) service, installation of flat-bed seats in BusinessFirst, and service to Shanghai.
Continental has a website featuring historical photos and information on Continental’s 75-year history.