Eight Years After Merger, United Airlines’ Flight Attendants to Work Together on Flights

Flight attendants serving pre-departure Mai Tais on United's final 747 flight, which operated from SFO to HNL

By Paul Riegler on 29 September 2018
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United Airlines’ merger with Continental Airlines was announced on May 3, 2010 and the merger closed on October 1, 2010.

The merger created what was then the world’s biggest airline, with an unparalleled global network, nine hubs, and over 5,500 daily flights serving nearly 400 destinations.

But eight years later, the airline was still grappling with multiple issues including the integration of its workforce. United flight attendants continued to fly with other United flight attendants and the same was the case on the legacy Continental side, as if the merger had not taken place.  Granted, the airline overcame multiple hurdles – albeit with some significant missteps along the way – including merging two aging computer systems, thousands of procedures used by employees from booking reservations to boarding flights as well as more trivial-sounding matters such as how to slice a lemon.

These issues in turn delayed many of the benefits that the airline had promised passengers, employees, and investors.

But change is in the air and on Monday, October 1, a full eight years after the merger closed, the United Airlines and Continental Airlines flight attendant workgroups will become one.

The airlines’ flight attendants began working under a single contract that was ratified in August 2016.

“The contract provides immediate economic gains, sets a new industry standard and ensures Flight Attendants can achieve the benefits of a fully integrated airline,” said Sara Nelson, the union’s president, at the time.

The path to a merged workforce has not been smooth.  Earlier this month, flight attendants complained that the new flight bidding and awarding system, which was a necessary step to merge the two workgroups, had some glitches.  The airline worked furiously to address the issues, which it downplayed, noting that the implementation of complex systems such as this one was bound to create a few challenges.

With what the airline said was a 24-hour delay, all United and former Continental flight attendants received their October schedules, a milestone as this represented the first time that the two workgroups will be working side by side in the air.

“Our flight attendants are the best in the business,” said United CEO Oscar Munoz in August 2016, when the two flight attendant groups ratified the contract. Tomorrow they will lead United in cementing the final step of the merger.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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