Skip to main content
Select Source:

Continental Airlines, Inc.

Continental Airlines, Inc.

1600 Smith Street
Houston, Texas 77002
U.S.A.
Telephone: (713) 324-5000
Toll Free: (800) 525-0280
Fax: (713) 324-2637
Web site: http://www.continental.com

Public Company
Incorporated:
1934 as Varney Speed Lines
Employees: 42,900
Sales: $8.97 billion (2001)
Stock Exchanges: New York
Ticker Symbol: CAL
NAIC: 481111 Scheduled Passenger Air Transportation; 481112 Scheduled Freight Air Transportation

Continental Airlines, Inc. is the fifth largest U.S. airline, based on 2001 revenue passenger miles (RPMs). The company carries passengers, cargo, and mail throughout the world. The company serves more than 200 airports worldwide, with the majority of them located in the United States, and has extensive service to Latin America. Domestic flight services are operated mainly through its business hubs in Cleveland, Houston, and Newark, from which the carrier has attained a market leading position in the New York areas transatlantic traffic.

Demoralized by bitter labor relations and a takeover by corporate raider Frank Lorenzo in the 1980s, Continental became a poster child for turnaround management in the 1990s. After almost a decade of financial losses and declining sales, Continental finally turned a profit in 1995. Regional unit Continental Express was spun off in a 2002 initial public offering (IPO) as Express Jet Airlines, Inc.

The Early Years

The beginnings of Continental Airlines, Inc. can be traced back to 1934, when Walter Varney founded an airline company that he named Varney Speed Lines. Varney Speed Lines was the fourth airline created by its founder; the first had been purchased by Boeings United Aircraft, and the other two had failed. Varney operated his newest business alone until 1937, at which time a man by the name of Robert Foreman Six used $90,000 to purchase a 40 percent interest in the company.

Six had a background as a pilot and flight school instructor, having dropped out of high school to work odd jobs and take flying lessons in the mid-1920s. In 1929, at the age of 22, Six earned his pilots license and was running the Valley Flying Service in Stockton, California, which sold scenic air tours of the California countryside to area residents and tourists. When the effects of the Depression halted his flying service, Six worked at a Boeing Air Transport flight school in San Francisco, training airline pilots. He later left the United States and worked for the China National Aviation Company in Shanghai. Upon his return to the United States the following year, Six convinced his new father-in-law to lend him the money that was used to acquire his interest in Varney Speed Lines.

Sixs $90,000 investment was used mainly to pay debts that Varney had accrued during the companys first three years. After the companys financial standing was restored, only a small portion of money remained to purchase new or upgraded equipment. Therefore, Six used his negotiation skills to convince the Lockheed Corporation to sell Varney Speed Lines three L-12 planes on credit. Soon thereafter, Six led the company in changing its name from Varney Speed Lines to Continental Airlines, contending that the young airline would never be successful with a name like Varney. Such efforts soon earned Six a position as the companys president.

Following his appointment to the presidency of Continental Airlines, Six led the company through a period of rapid expansion. First on his agenda was the task of enlarging the airlines fleet of planes. At that time, the DC-3 was the most popular, practical, and durable plane on the market; unfortunately, it was also the most expensive, and Continental could not afford it. Instead, Six decided to purchase a number of L-14 Lodestars from Lockheed, and then hired 12 of the companys first stewardesses to staff the new planes. Meanwhile, the company also was working to expand its flight route network, which had previously consisted of a circuit that ran between Denver, Colorado, and El Paso, Texas. First to be added were services to Wichita, Kansas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

In the midst of his expansion efforts, Six left the company in August 1942 to enlist in the U.S. Army, leaving Continental in the hands of a lawyer named Terrell Drinkwater. The Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, and the country was mobilizing for World War II. Six was sworn in as a captain and stationed in New Caledonia. He was later transferred to the Caribbean, where he was able to use his flight knowledge to aid in maintaining a military air conduit between the United States and Brazil. Meanwhile, Continental had earned several government contracts during wartime and was left with $900,000 in cash and a tiny debt of only $60,000.

Postwar Expansion Efforts

Following the war, Six returned to Continental and immediately helped the company acquire a number of DC-3s from military surplus. Although the planes represented an upgrade of the airline companys fleet, DC-3s were no longer the top-of-the-line aircraft that they had been in the 1940s. During the war years, new planes had been developed that were more efficient, many of which had four engines instead of two. These newer planes were designed to carry more passengers greater distances, but were too large for Continentals purposes. Continental was still a small airline when compared with the countrys other major airlines, even though its route network had been expanded greatly by the addition of Kansas City and San Antonio, Texas, as flight destinations. But regardless of the companys flight expansion, Continental decided to purchase seven two-engine Convair 340s from Douglas and only two four-engine DC-6Bs, at a total price of $7.6 million. The expenditure represented Continentals gross income for the entire year of 1951, but also made clear Sixs commitment to investing in the companys future.

Two years later, as the company continued its push to increase its route network and its flight capacity, Six also engineered the companys first major acquisition. Continental purchased Pioneer Airlines, including its rights to fly into Dallas/ Ft. Worth and Austin, Texas. With the purchase came a Pioneer manager by the name of Harding Lawrence, whom Six soon placed in charge of Continentals finances.

Lawrence was an instrumental factor in the success of Continentals next expansion effort, which was the biggest and most ambitious in the companys history to that point in time. In 1955, the Civil Aeronautics Board granted Continental service rights between Denver and Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago, and Chicago and Los Angeles. Operation of the three new cross-country routes put Continental in direct competition with the other major airlines, such as American, United, and TWAeach of which possessed the financial resources to put Continental out of business in a price war.

Continental knew that it would have to purchase several new airplanes once again, including a fleet of the latest jetliners. Therefore, the company invested $60 million in new aircraft: DC-7s, Viscount 810s, and Boeing 707s. The challenge to Continental was then to use its limited jet fleet to cover all of its capacity needs. The problem spurred the creation of Lawrences progressive maintenance program, which routinely called one of the five 707s out of service on a rotational basis. This plan reduced the actual maintenance time spent on the airplanes and allowed the company to identify and correct any problems before they became serious. Thanks to Lawrences idea, the company was able to use its five 707s for an average of 15 hours a day, which was the longest period of use in the industry at that time. His plan was crucial to Continentals early survival of its entrance into the cross-country flight market.

In 1959, another important player appeared at Continental when Alexander Damm left his job at TWA and was brought aboard by Six. Damms first contribution was to end Continentals practice of leasing items such as aircraft, trucks, and equipment from other companies. He noted that the countrys two most profitable airlines, Delta and Northwest, each used the lowest percentage of leased equipment. He convinced Six to cancel as many leasing arrangements as possible and begin instead to focus the companys resources on purchasing more equipment of its own.

The 1960s: Merger Attempts and Expanded Services

Entering the 1960s, Continental was enjoying a period of relatively good prosperity. In early 1961, a group of bankers in charge of the now financially troubled TWA approached Six with a lucrative offer to become the companys president. When he turned them down, making clear his loyalty to Continental, the group began making offers to merge the two companies. Six still refused, stating that a merger was not in the companys best interest at that time. Therefore, it was somewhat of a surprise later that year when Six and Ted Baker of National Airlines announced a merger of their two companies. The merger, however, was quickly canceled when Six found out that Baker also had secretly negotiated the sale of National to Maytags Frontier Airlines.

The following year, Continental experienced the first plane crash in the companys 24-year history. The crash occurred on May 22, 1962, and was caused by a bomb that exploded aboard one of the companys 707s. There were no survivors. Continental had already planned on gradually replacing its 707 fleet with new Boeing 720s, a shorter and faster version of the 707. After the bombing, the company increased its original order from four new 720s to five.

Company Perspectives:

Our goals are simplethey are our customers goals. We continue to deliver a high-quality product each and every day, getting our customers where they want to go, on-time and with their bags, while providing pre-flight and inflight service that is globally recognized for consistency and excellence.

In 1963, the Civil Aeronautics Board finally released Continental from its obligation to operate a number of unprofitable rural air services that fed passenger traffic into larger air terminals. Therefore, Continental was able to sell off its smaller aircraft and reassign the pilots and flight staff to its larger and more profitable routes. The following year, the company received a contract from the U.S. government to carry out military transportation services in Southeast Asia. A new subsidiary was formed, called Continental Air Services (CAS), and operated alongside Air America, the Central Intelligence Agencys covertly run airline. CAS, however, did not engage in any CIA activity.

Meanwhile, TWAs chairman, Howard Hughes, had fallen out of favor and was offering to sell his controlling interest in TWA to Continental and make Six the newly formed companys president. But Six knew that the deal would require the approval of TWAs new board of directors, who were happy with the companys performance under Charles Tillinghast at that time. Six once again declined the merger proposition, feeling that the management at TWA did not trust Hughes and that they would be unlikely to go along with any of his ideas.

Later that year, Continental suffered a blow to its management team, as Harding Lawrence left the company to accept a position as president of Braniff Airlines. Initially, no attempt was made to replace him. A year later, however, Six brought aboard Pierre Salinger, the late President Kennedys press secretary, as a member of Continentals board of directors.

In the late 1960s, the Civil Aeronautics Board invited bids for a commercial air service to link the United States to the approximately 2,500 islands in the South Pacific that make up the American Trust Territory. Continental had wanted to operate a trans-Pacific route for years, and it saw this as the perfect opportunity to demonstrate its ability to do so. In November 1967, Continental was awarded routes to various islands in Micronesia and Northern Mariana. A subsidiary called Air Micronesia was created in partnership with Hawaiis Aloha Airlines and an investor group called United Micronesian. A fleet of 727s was obtained, airports along the route were modernized, and a number of hotels were constructed for tourists.

Declining Profitability in the 1970s and 1980s

Unfortunately, Continental faced numerous obstacles as it entered the 1970s, and its financial standing began to suffer. The first blow came just after Richard Nixon took over the presidency of the United States. In one of his very last acts as President, Lyndon Johnson had awarded air traffic rights to Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand to Continental. To accommodate its increased capacity demands, the company purchased a fleet of four 747s. Barely a month later, Nixon took office and canceled Continentals rights to the three destinations. Later, the routes were awarded again to the company, but then revoked again. Continental was forced to put the four new planes into storage in a hangar in New Mexico, at a cost of $13 million per year. The routes were finally awarded to the company a third time, but three of the 747s had been sold to Iran in 1975.

That year, Continental posted a loss of $9.7 million, marking its first annual loss since 1958 and only the second in the companys 41-year history. The high cost of fuel in the mid-1970s and a poor economic climate in the United States caused the airline industry as a whole to experience a steady decline, and Continental was no exception. The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 only exacerbated Continentals problems. The Act opened up some of the companys most stable and profitable markets to competition from other airline companies. The final hit came as Continental was obligated to honor a number of different labor agreements that were almost too expensive to maintain, because of the agreements built-in provisions for inflation.

In 1980, Six stepped down from the day-to-day operations of the company and appointed Alvin L. Feldman as his replacement. Feldman took control of a company that was in serious financial trouble. He immediately attempted to negotiate a merger between Continental and the struggling Los Angeles-based Western Airlines, believing that a combination of forces potentially could lift both airlines back into the black. The merger plans were cut short, however, by the announcement that Texas Air Corporation had decided to increase its stake in Continental from 4.24 percent to more than 50 percent.

Instead of a merger with Western Airlines, Continentals employees made moves to purchase the airline themselves, led by two company pilots named Paul Eckel and Chuck Cheeld. Employees approved the plan by a large margin, and nine different banks agreed to help finance the $185 million employee acquisition. But months later, just before the purchase took place, the banks withdrew their support and Texas Air was able to purchase a 50.84 percent majority stake in Continental. At the companys annual meeting in 1982, Robert Six retired from Continental at the age of 74, after expressing his confidence in Texas Air Chairman Frank Lorenzo to carry Continental back into profitability.

Key Dates:

1934:
Vamey Speed Lines is founded.
1937:
Robert Foreman Six buys a 40 percent interest in Varney.
1955:
Three new cross-country routes are added in an expansion drive.
1967:
Continental is first awarded Micronesian routes.
1982:
Texas Air Corporation acquires Continental.
1983:
Continental files bankruptcy.
1986:
Continental emerges from bankruptcy; Continental absorbs other airlines facing bankruptcy, including Eastern, People Express, and Frontier.
1990:
Continental declares bankruptcy again.
1993:
Continental regains solvency, restructures.
1994:
Continental ranks last among majors for on-time performance.
1995:
Incentive-led Continental ranks first among majors for on-time performance and earns its first profit in ten years.
1998:
Northwest Airlines acquires a majority of voting shares.
2000:
Continental buys out Northwests holding.

Texas Air completed the full acquisition of Continental Airlines in October 1982. Just a year later, Lorenzo filed Chapter 11 proceedings for the company. Labor contracts were invalidated by the courts, new work rules and pay scales were created, and just 56 hours later, Continental was back in the air. It was the first time that an airline had attempted to continue operations while in bankruptcy. Workers went on strike and formed picket lines. Management worried that travel agents would stop writing tickets for Continental and that passengers would be lost because of bad publicity surrounding the companys financial situation.

To counter the bad publicity, Continental offered a $49 fare for any nonstop flight that the airline ran. The idea was to bring passengers aboard and let them see that the airline was capable of functioning as usual, with the hope that most would then return again. The promotion was a success; not only did it earn the company return passengers, but labor opposition dissolved and employees elected to return to work. Questionable strike tactics led the pilots to repudiate their union. Soon 4,000 of the original 12,000 employees were rehired at reduced pay with an increased workload. In response, by 1985 Continentals labor costs had been reduced significantly. The following year, the company emerged from bankruptcy as a nonunion airline that sported low fares due to the industrys lowest labor costs.

Lorenzo then began acquiring numerous other airline companies facing bankruptcy, including Eastern Airlines, People Express Airlines, and Frontier Airlines. These new subsidiaries combined with Continental (which had since absorbed Texas International Airlines) to place Texas Air Corporation in more than $4.6 billion of debt. The number of passengers flying Continental had steadily increased since the strikes, however, and Continental was the only division to begin its debt repayment program. As of September 1986, Continental owed its creditors $925 million and was scheduled to break even in a decade.

In 1988, Lorenzo sold Easterns Air Shuttle service to Donald Trump in an effort to keep the airline afloat. But a machinists strike and an ever declining financial situation forced Eastern into bankruptcy the following year. The bankruptcy court then removed Eastern from Texas Airs control. Texas Air changed its name to Continental Airlines Holdings, Inc. to better reflect the amalgamation of businesses that it represented, and Lorenzo sold his stake in the company before resigning as chairman, CEO, and president. Hollis Harris, the former president of Delta Air Lines, was named as his replacement.

The 1990s and Beyond

In late 1990, fuel prices were at a high point and passenger traffic was at a low point, due to effects of the Persian Gulf War. Continental once again filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code, joining fellow subsidiary Eastern. But Eastern could not recover and was forced to liquidate in 1991. Harris left Continental Holdings in 1991 and was replaced by former CFO Robert Ferguson. That same year, Continental sold its Seattle-Tokyo route to American for $145 million, and the following year, it sold most of its LaGuardia assets and six slots at Washington, D.C.s National Airport to US Air for $61 million. Continental used the earnings to attempt to wrestle its way out of bankruptcy for a second time.

In 1993, Continental emerged once again from bankruptcy and underwent an extensive reorganization. All of the Continental Airlines Holdings, Inc. subsidiaries and divisions were merged into Continental Airlines, and new stock was issued to replace any previously outstanding publicly held interests in the former parent company. Ferguson remained at the new companys helm and began orchestrating plans to restructure the airlines business focus as well.

Under Ferguson, Continental went ahead with the rapid expansion of its Continental Lite operation, which represented the companys own version of Southwest Airlines short-haul, no-meal, low-fare flights. In less than a year, the program was expanded from the use of 19 aircraft for 173 daily flights serving 14 cities, to 114 aircraft for 1,000 daily flights among 43 cities. The additional aircraft were made available by eliminating the Denver hub and redeploying planes and equipment to other locations. Unfortunately, Continental Lite proved itself to be unprofitable and contributed greatly to the companys 1994 loss of $613 million.

Going Forward in the Mid-1990s

Meanwhile, Gordon M. Bethune, a former Boeing Co. executive, had joined Continental as president and COO in early 1994. Continental Lite continued to lose money and Ferguson continued to push the program forward until he was ousted late that year. He remained as a director, but was replaced as CEO by Bethune, who immediately set in place a Go Forward Plan to turn the ailing company around.

First, Bethune renegotiated Continentals debt, arranged concessions from aircraft lessors, and got Boeing to agree to defer delivery of any new planes on order. He then completely cleaned house, sweeping out almost half of the companys high-ranking executives and replacing them with his own managers from businesses such as Northwest, American, and PepsiCo. He hired Gregory D. Brenneman, a former Bain & Co. consultant with no previous airline experience, as his new COO. He grounded 41 planes, slashed capacity, and cut almost 5,000 jobs in 1995. He abolished most of the companys loss-making Continental Lite services. Then, with a guided focus solely on improving the airlines service to its customers, Bethune saw results. The year 1995 not only saw the company turn a profit for the first time since 1986, but saw it turn a hefty profit of $224 million.

As the 1990s drew to a close, the company focused on the goal of luring more high-paying business travelers back to its flights. To do so, Bethune tied company bonuses to on-time performance, as a means of improving the companys dismal last place standing among major airlines for on-time performance in 1994. By early 1995, the airline had risen to a first place rank for the first time in the companys history. Bethune also brought back the frequent-flier program perks that had been cut during Fergusons reign and spent $8 million to put food back onto some flights so that Continental would appeal to hurried business travelers.

Although Continental was clearly on the road to recovery as it neared the 21st century, it still faced many obstacles along its path to success. Namely, without a unique attribute to offer customersaside from convenience in its three hub locations onlythe airline was having a difficult time convincing passengers to stray from the other major airlines. Many analysts predicted that it would take a merger to give Continental the marketing capabilities and exposure necessary to pull itself to the top of the heap. But if the turnaround created by Bethune in 1995 and 1996 was any indication of the future, then the company seemed to possess the potential to regain the financial integrity that it had possessed during its early years.

Flying to Win in the Late 1990s

Continental logged a record $319 million in earnings in 1996. Fly to Win initiatives were introduced to keep the company moving forward. The airline began standardizing the fleet, mostly around the Boeing 737 for the main line and Embraer EMB 145 regional jets for Continental Express. In 1997, Continental had $4.3 billion worth of orders (127) and options (90) for Boeing 737s.

Although salaries had risen an average of 25 percent since 1994, Continental employees were still paid less than their counterparts at other airlines. Morale and attention to detail were boosted by unique incentives, such as a payment of $65 to each employee every time Continental finished in the top three on-time carriers in the United States. The company reduced absenteeism by raffling off Ford Explorers twice a year to those with perfect attendance. On-time performance and motivated employees were key components in luring demanding (and lucrative) business travelers back to the airline. Part of what made Continentals renewed focus on quality so striking was the cutbacks other airlines were making at the same time.

With major markets in the United States nearly saturated, Continental aimed to increase feeder traffic from abroad through strategic alliances with the likes of Air France, Alitalia, and Virgin Atlantic. By the late 1990s, Continental had accords with 17 airlines. The carrier lobbied the governments of Argentina and Spain for a chance to invest in Aerolineas Argentinas, an opportunity it lost to rival American Airlines. Continental also had considerable operations of its own in Europe, Latin America, and the Pacific. Flying from Newark, Continental was flying more transatlantic flights than anyone in the New York area by 1999.

In 1998 Northwest Airlines acquired a 14 percent equity stake/54 percent voting interest in Continental from President and Chief Operating Officer David Bonderman. The move headed off an attempt by Delta Air Lines to acquire Continental. Northwest paid $519 million for the shares, an investment meant to launch a ten-year strategic alliance. An antitrust lawsuit from the Justice Department two years later pressured Northwest to sell its shares back to Continental. Continental sold its own minority stake in America West in 2000, and two years later ended a code-sharing agreement with the Phoenix-based airline.

Scaling Back in 2001

Continental was the first among major U.S. airlines to cut its staff in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. It let go of 12,000 employees (20 percent of the workforce). Most of these, however, would be called back to work within a year. Bethune soon began lobbying the government for an industrywide federal bailout.

A fourth quarter loss of $149 million left the airline $95 million in the red for the year, a relatively small setback compared with those of other major airlines. The carrier parked 61 of its jets and 23 turboprops as it waited for traffic to return to normal.

ExpressJet Holdings Inc., the parent company for the regional jet unit Continental Express, was spun off in April 2002 in an IPO that raised $480 million. The IPO had been delayed several months due to the September 11 attacks. Continental owned 53 percent of ExpressJet after the offering.

Continental was reported to have approached Delta Air Lines about a possible merger in 1996. This did not happen, but in August 2002, Continental, Delta, and Northwest proposed a massive ten-year code-share agreement. This would allow the airlines to sell tickets on each others flights, and to share frequent flier programs and airport lounges. Together the three airlines had a 36 percent share of domestic traffic. The alliance was a response to a pending pairing of United and US Airways.

Principal Subsidiaries

Continental Micronesia, Inc.

Principal Competitors

AMR Corporation; Delta Air Lines Inc.; UAL Corporation.

Further Reading

Antosh, Nelson, Airlines Will Part Company; Continental to End America West Link, Houston Chronicle, March 28, 2002, p. Bl.

Armbruster, William, Rebounding from 9/11: Continental Restores Services, Works to Increase Revenue Yield, JoC Week, February 18, 2002, p. 20.

Banks, Howard, A Sixties Industry in a Nineties Economy, Forbes, May 9, 1994, p. 107.

Bethune, Gordon, and Scott Huler, From Worst to First (excerpt from From Worst to First: Behind the Scenes of Continentals Remarkable Comeback), Fortune, May 25, 1998, pp. 185+.

, From Worst to First: Behind the Scenes of Continentals Remarkable Comeback, New York: Wiley, 1998.

Bond, David, Recovery, Phase Two: Majors Change Strategy from Super-Sized Alliances to Drinks Over the Atlantic; Carriers Stop Waiting for the Market to Save Them, Aviation Week & Space Technology, September 2, 2002, p. 24.

Brenneman, Greg, Right Away and All at Once: How We Saved Continental, Harvard Business Review, September/October 1998, pp. 162+.

Carey, Susan, Scott McCartney, and John Wilke, Antitrust Suit Could Complicate Future Airline MergersNorthwests Controlling Stake in Continental Goes Under Scrutiny in Trial This Week, Wall Street Journal, October 23, 2000, p. B10.

Clark, Andrew, Sex, Scotch and Speed: Gordon Bethune, Chairman and Chief Executive, Continental Airlines, Guardian (Manchester, U.K.), September 21, 2002, p. 34.

Continental Cargo Continues Growth Streak, Journal of Commerce and Commercial, September 29, 1997, pp. S18+.

ExpressJet IPO Proves a Flier, Airfinance Journal, May 2002, p. 19.

Flint, Perry, Speed Racer: Gordon Bethune Has Continental Airlines on the Fast Track to Success, Air Transport World, April 1997, pp. 33+.

Flynn, Gillian, A Flight Plan for Success, Workforce, July 1997, pp. 72+.

Goldberg, Laura, A Woman Who Became a High Flier; Continental Executive Is Still a Pilot, Houston Chronicle, February 26, 2000, p. C1.

Hammonds, Keith H., Continentals Turnaround Pilot, Fast Company, December 2001, p. 96.

Harris, Nicole, Marketing Accord by Three Airlines Raises Questions, Wall Street Journal, August 26, 2002, p. A2.

Huey, John, Outlaw Flyboy CEOs (interview of Gordon Bethune and Herb Kelleher), Fortune, November 13, 2000, pp. 237+.

Josselson, Steven, Houston, We Have a Problem, Airfinance Journal, February 2002, pp. 30-32.

Knez, Marc, and Duncan Simester, Firm-Wide Incentives and Mutual Monitoring at Continental Airlines, Journal of Labor Economics, October 2001, pp. 743-72.

Lipowicz, Alice, High-Flying Continental Revs Up Newark Plan; While Rivals Trim Growth, Airline to Sharply Expand Foreign Flights, Crains New York Business, March 20, 2000, p. 32.

Moore, Heidi, ExpressJet Might Fly But Wont Float, Daily Deal, September 18, 2001.

Murphy, Michael, The Airline That Pride Almost Bought, New York: Watts, 1986.

Oehmke, Ted, Plane Spoken, Texas Monthly, June 1998, pp. 58-65.

OReilly, Brian, The Mechanic Who Fixed Continental: Believe It or Not, CEO Gordon Bethune, a Former Navy Mechanic, Has Made Continental the Best Airline in the U.S., Fortune, December 20, 1989, pp. 176+.

Scippa, Ray, Point to Point, The Sixty Year History of Continental Airlines, Houston: Pioneer Publications, Inc., 1994.

Serling, Robert J., The Story of Robert Six and Continental Airlines, New York: Doubleday, 1974.

Stevens, Shannon, Richard Metzner, Brandweek, October 20, 1997, pp. 98-101.

Thompson, Richard, Do the Right Thing, Corporate Counsel, December 2001, pp. 54+.

Van der Kraats, Stephan A., Gaining a Competitive Edge Through Airline Alliances, Competitiveness Review, Summer/Fall 2000, pp. 56+.

Whitaker, Richard, We Win Together, Airline Business, July 1997, pp. 34+.

Zellner, Wendy, Back to Coffee, Tea, or Milk?, Business Week, July 3, 1995, p. 52.

, The Right Place, the Right Time, Business Week, May 27, 1996, p. 74.

, Why Continentals CEO Fell to Earth, Business Week, November 7, 1994, p. 32.

Laura E. Whiteley

update: Frederick C. Ingram

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Continental Airlines, Inc.." International Directory of Company Histories. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Oct. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Continental Airlines, Inc.." International Directory of Company Histories. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/books/politics-and-business-magazines/continental-airlines-inc-0

"Continental Airlines, Inc.." International Directory of Company Histories. . Retrieved October 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/books/politics-and-business-magazines/continental-airlines-inc-0

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Continental Airlines, Inc.

Continental Airlines, Inc.

2929 Allen Parkway
Suite 2010
Houston, Texas 77019
U.S.A.
(713) 834-5000
Fax: (713) 834-2087
Web site: http://www.flycontinental.com

Public Company
Incorporated:
1934 as Varney Speed Lines
Employees: 35,400
Sales: $6.36 billion (1996)
Stock Exchanges: New York
SICs: 4512 Air Transportation, Scheduled

Continental Airlines, Inc. is one of the largest airline companies in the United States, providing transportation to passengers, cargo, and mail throughout the world. The company serves more than 175 airports worldwide, with the majority of them located in the United States. Domestic flight services are operated mainly through its business hubs in Cleveland, Houston, and Newark. Internationally, Continental distinguishes itself by serving more destinations in Mexico and Central America than any other United States airline. After almost a decade of financial losses and declining sales, Continental finally turned a profit in 1995 and was on the road to recovery as the end of the century neared.

The Early Years

The beginnings of Continental Airlines, Inc. can be traced back to 1934, when Walter Varney founded an airline company that he named Varney Speed Lines. Varney Speed Lines was the fourth airline created by its founder; the first had been purchased by Boeings United Aircraft, and two of the others had failed. Varney operated his newest business alone until 1937, at which time a man by the name of Robert Foreman Six used $90,000 to purchase a 40 percent interest in the company.

Six had a background as a pilot and flight school instructor, after having dropped out of high school to work odd jobs and take flying lessons in the mid-1920s. In 1929, at the age of 22, Six had earned his pilots license and was running the Valley Flying Service in Stockton, California, which sold scenic air tours of the California countryside to area residents and tourists. When the effects of the Depression halted his flying service, Six worked at a Boeing Air Transport flight school in San Francisco, training airline pilots. He later left the United States and worked for the China National Aviation Company in Shanghai. Upon his return to the United States the following year, Six convinced his new father-in-law to lend him the money that was used to acquire his interest in Varney Speed Lines.

Sixs $90,000 investment was used mainly to pay debts that Varney had accrued during the companys first three years. After the companys financial standing was restored, only a small portion of money remained to purchase new or upgraded equipment. Therefore, Six used his negotiation skills to convince the Lockheed Corporation to sell Varney Speed Lines three L-12 planes on credit. Soon thereafter, Six led the company in changing its name from Varney Speed Lines to Continental Airlines, contending that the young airline would never be successful with a name like Varney. These efforts soon earned Six a position as the companys president.

Following his appointment to the presidency of Continental Airlines, Six led the company through a period of rapid expansion. First on his agenda was the task of enlarging the airlines fleet of planes. At that time, the DC-3 was the most popular, practical, and durable plane on the market; unfortunately, it was also the most expensive, and Continental could not afford it. Instead, Six decided to purchase a number of L-14 Lodestars from Lockheed, and then hired 12 of the companys first stewardesses to staff the new planes. Meanwhile, the company was also working to expand its flight route network, which had previously consisted of a circuit that ran between Denver, Colorado and EI Paso, Texas. First to be added were services to Wichita, Kansas and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

In the midst of his expansion efforts, Six left the company in August of 1942 to enlist in the U.S. Army, leaving Continental in the hands of a lawyer named Terrell Drinkwater. The Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, and the country was mobilizing for World War II. Six was sworn in as a captain and stationed in New Caledonia. He was later transferred to the Caribbean, where he was able to use his flight knowledge to aid in maintaining a military air conduit between the United States and Brazil. Meanwhile, Continental had earned several government contracts during wartime and was left with $900,000 in cash and a tiny debt of only $60,000.

Postwar Expansion Efforts

Following the war, Six returned to Continental and immediately helped the company acquire a number of DC-3s from military surplus. Although the planes represented an upgrade of the airline companys fleet, DC-3s were no longer the top-of-the-line aircraft that they had been in the 1940s. During the war years, new planes had been developed that were more efficient, many of which had four engines instead of two. These newer planes were designed to carry more passengers greater distances, but were too large for Continentals purposes. Continental was still a small airline when compared with the countrys other major airlines, even though its route network had been expanded greatly by the addition of Kansas City and San Antonio, Texas as flight destinations. But regardless of the companys flight expansion, Continental decided to purchase seven two-engine Convair 340s from Douglas and only two four-engine DC-6Bs, at a total price of $7.6 million. The expenditure represented Continentals gross income for the entire year of 1951, but also made clear Sixs commitment to investing in the companys future.

Two years later, as the company continued its push to increase its route network and its flight capacity, Six also engineered the companys first major acquisition. Continental purchased Pioneer Airlines, including its rights to fly into Dallas/Ft. Worth and Austin, Texas. With the purchase came a Pioneer manager by the name of Harding Lawrence, whom Six soon placed in charge of Continentals finances.

Lawrence was an instrumental factor in the success of Continentals next expansion effort, which was the biggest and most ambitious in the companys history to that point in time. In 1955, the Civil Aeronautics Board granted Continental service rights between Denver and Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago, and Chicago and Los Angeles. Operation of the three new cross-country routes put Continental in direct competition with the other major airlines, such as American, United, and TWAeach of which possessed the financial resources to put Continental out of business in a price war.

Continental knew that it would have to purchase several new airplanes once again, including a fleet of the latest jetliners. Therefore, the company invested $60 million in new aircraft: DC-7s, Viscount 810s, and Boeing 707s. The challenge to Continental was then to use its limited jet fleet to cover all of its capacity needs. The problem spurred the creation of Lawrences progressive maintenance program, which routinely called one of the five 707s out of service on a rotational basis. This plan reduced the actual maintenance time spent on the airplanes and allowed the company to identify and correct any problems before they became serious. Thanks to Lawrences idea, the company was able to use its five 707s for an average of 15 hours a day, which was the longest period of use in the industry at that time. His plan was crucial to Continentals early survival of its entrance into the cross-country flight market.

In 1959, another important player appeared at Continental when Alexander Damm left his job at TWA and was brought aboard by Six. Damms first contribution was to end Continentals practice of leasing items such as aircraft, trucks, and equipment from other companies. He noted that the countrys two most profitable airlines, Delta and Northwest, each used the lowest percentage of leased equipment. He convinced Six to cancel as many leasing arrangements as possible and begin instead to focus the companys resources on purchasing more equipment of its own.

The 1960s: Merger Attempts and Expanded Services

Entering the 1960s, Continental was enjoying a period of relatively good prosperity. In early 1961, a group of bankers in charge of the now financially troubled TWA approached Six with a lucrative offer to become the companys president. When he turned them down, making clear his loyalty to Continental, the group began making offers to merge the two companies. Six still refused, stating that a merger was not in the companys best interest at that time. Therefore, it was somewhat of a surprise later that year when Six and Ted Baker of National Airlines announced a merger of their two companies. The merger, however, was quickly canceled when Six found out that Baker also had secretly negotiated the sale of National to May tags Frontier Airlines.

The following year, Continental experienced the first plane crash in the companys 24-year history. The crash occurred on May 22, 1962 and was caused by a bomb that exploded aboard one of the companys 707s. There were no survivors. Continental had already planned on gradually replacing its 707 fleet with new Boeing 720s, a shorter and faster version of the 707. After the bombing, the company increased its original order from four new 720s to five.

Company Perspectives:

We have the tools and the guidance we need to change what we are to what we need to be. Namely, the Continental Airlines that customers prefer because were consistently on-time, efficient, convenient, accommodating, fun to fly and safe. An airline run by people who enjoy and value their work and feel secure in the future theyre building.

In 1963, the Civil Aeronautics Board finally released Continental from its obligation to operate a number of unprofitable rural air services that fed passenger traffic into larger air terminals. Therefore, Continental was able to sell off its smaller aircraft and reassign the pilots and flight staff to its larger and more profitable routes. The following year, the company received a contract from the U.S. government to carry out military transportation services in Southeast Asia. A new subsidiary was formed, called Continental Air Services (CAS), and operated alongside Air America, the Central Intelligence Agencys covertly run airline. CAS, however, did not engage in any CIA activity.

Meanwhile, TWAs chairman, Howard Hughes, had fallen out of favor and was offering to sell his controlling interest in TWA to Continental and make Six the newly formed companys president. But Six knew that the deal would require the approval of TWAs new board of directors, who were happy with the companys performance under Charles Tillinghast at that time. Six once again declined the merger proposition, feeling that the management at TWA did not trust Hughes and that they would be unlikely to go along with any of his ideas.

Later that year, Continental suffered a blow to its management team, as Harding Lawrence left the company to accept a position as president of Braniff Airlines. Initially, no attempt was made to replace him. A year later, however, Six brought aboard Pierre Salinger, the late President Kennedys press secretary, as a member of Continentals board of directors.

In the late 1960s, the Civil Aeronautics Board invited bids for a commercial air service to link the United States to the approximately 2,500 islands in the South Pacific that make up the American Trust Territory. Continental had wanted to operate a trans-Pacific route for years, and it saw this as the perfect opportunity to demonstrate its ability to do so. In November of 1967, Continental was awarded routes to various islands in Micronesia and Northern Mariana. A subsidiary called Air Micronesia was created in partnership with Hawaiis Aloha Airlines and an investor group called United Micronesian. A fleet of 727s was obtained, airports along the route were modernized, and a number of hotels were constructed for tourists.

Declining Profitability in the 1970s and 1980s

Unfortunately, Continental faced numerous obstacles as it entered the 1970s, and its financial standing began to suffer. The first blow came just after Richard Nixon took over the presidency of the United States. In one of his very last acts as President, Lyndon Johnson had awarded air traffic rights to Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand to Continental. To accommodate its increased capacity demands, the company purchased a fleet of four 747s. Barely a month later, Nixon took office and canceled Continentals rights to the three destinations. Later, the routes were awarded again to the company, but then revoked again. Continental was forced to put the four new planes into storage in a hangar in New Mexico, at a cost of $13 million per year. The routes were finally awarded to the company a third time, but three of the 747s had been sold to Iran in 1975.

That year, Continental posted a loss of $9.7 million, marking its first annual loss since 1958 and only the second in the companys 41-year history. The high cost of fuel in the mid-1970s and a poor economic climate in the United States caused the airline industry as a whole to experience a steady decline, and Continental was no exception. The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 only exacerbated Continentals problems. The Act opened up some of the companys most stable and profitable markets to competition from other airline companies. The final hit came as Continental was obligated to honor a number of different labor agreements that were almost too expensive to maintain, because of the agreements built-in provisions for inflation.

In 1980, Six stepped down from the day-to-day operations of the company and appointed Alvin L. Feldman as his replacement. Feldman took control of a company that was in serious financial trouble. He immediately attempted to negotiate a merger between Continental and the struggling Los Angeles-based Western Airlines, believing that a combination of forces potentially could lift both airlines back into the black. The merger plans were cut short, however, by the announcement that Texas Air Corporation had decided to increase its stake in Continental from 4.24 percent to more than 50 percent.

Instead of a merger with Western Airlines, Continentals employees made moves to purchase the airline themselves, led by two company pilots named Paul Eckel and Chuck Cheeld. Employees approved the plan by a large margin, and nine different banks agreed to help finance the $185 million employee acquisition. But months later, just before the purchase took place, the banks withdrew their support and Texas Air was able to purchase a 50.84 percent majority stake in Continental. At the companys annual meeting in 1982, Robert Six retired from Continental at the age of 74, after expressing his confidence in Texas Air Chairman Frank Lorenzo to carry Continental back into profitability.

Texas Air completed the full acquisition of Continental Airlines in October of 1982. Just a year later, Lorenzo filed Chapter 11 proceedings for the company. Labor contracts were invalidated by the courts, new work rules and pay scales were created, and just 56 hours later, Continental was back in the air. It was the first time that an airline had attempted to continue operations while in bankruptcy. Workers went on strike and formed picket lines. Management worried that travel agents would stop writing tickets for Continental and that passengers would be lost because of bad publicity surrounding the companys financial situation.

To counter the bad publicity, Continental offered a $49 fare for any nonstop flight that the airline ran. The idea was to bring passengers aboard and let them see that the airline was capable of functioning as usual, with the hope that most would then return again. The promotion was a success; not only did it earn the company return passengers, but labor opposition dissolved and employees elected to return to work. Questionable strike tactics led the pilots to repudiate their union. Soon 4,000 of the original 12,000 employees were rehired at reduced pay with an increased work load. In response, by 1985 Continentals labor costs had been reduced significantly. The following year, the company emerged from bankruptcy as a nonunion airline that sported low fares due to the industrys lowest labor costs.

Lorenzo then began acquiring numerous other airline companies facing bankruptcy, including Eastern Airlines, People Express Airlines, and Frontier Airlines. These new subsidiaries combined with Continental (which had since absorbed Texas International Airlines) to place Texas Air Corporation in more than $4.6 billion of debt. The number of passengers flying Continental had steadily increased since the strikes, however, and Continental was the only division to begin its debt repayment program. As of September 1986, Continental owed its creditors $925 million and was scheduled to break even in a decade.

In 1988, Lorenzo sold Easterns Air Shuttle service to Donald Trump in an effort to keep the airline afloat. But a machinists strike and an ever-declining financial situation forced the airline into bankruptcy the following year. The bankruptcy court then removed Eastern from Texas Airs control. Texas Air changed its name to Continental Airlines Holdings to better reflect the amalgamation of businesses that it represented, and Lorenzo sold his stake in the company before resigning as chairman, CEO, and president. Hollis Harris, the former president of Delta Airlines, was named as his replacement.

The 1990s and Beyond

In late 1990, fuel prices were at a high point and passenger traffic was at a low point, due to effects of the Persian Gulf War. Continental once again filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code, joining fellow subsidiary Eastern. But Eastern could not recover and was forced to liquidate in 1991. Harris left Continental Holdings in 1991 and was replaced by former CFO Robert Ferguson. That same year, Continental sold its Seattle-Tokyo route to American for $145 million, and the following year, it sold most of its LaGuardia assets and six slots at Washington, D.C.s National Airport to US Air for $61 million. Continental used the earnings to attempt to wrestle its way out of bankruptcy for a second time.

In 1993, Continental emerged once again from bankruptcy and underwent an extensive reorganization. All of the Continental Airlines Holdings, Inc. subsidiaries and divisions were merged into Continental Airlines, and new stock was issued to replace any previously outstanding publicly held interests in the former parent company. Ferguson remained at the new companys helm and began orchestrating plans to restructure the airlines business focus as well.

Under Ferguson, Continental went ahead with the rapid expansion of its Continental Lite operation, which represented the companys own version of Southwest Airlines short-haul, no-meal, low-fare flights. In less than a year, the program was expanded from the use of 19 aircraft for 173 daily flights serving 14 cities, to 114 aircraft for 1,000 daily flights among 43 cities. The additional aircraft were made available by eliminating the Denver hub and redeploying planes and equipment to other locations. Unfortunately, Continental Lite proved itself to be unprofitable and contributed greatly to the companys 1994 loss of $613 million.

Meanwhile, Gordon M. Bethune, a former Boeing Co. executive, had joined Continental as president and COO in early 1994. Continental Lite continued to lose money and Ferguson continued to push the program forward until he was ousted late that year. He remained as a director, but was replaced as CEO by Bethune, who immediately set in place a Go Forward Plan to turn the ailing company around.

First, Bethune renegotiated Continentals debt, arranged concessions from aircraft lessors, and got Boeing to agree to defer delivery of any new planes on order. He then completely cleaned house, sweeping out almost half of the companys high-ranking executives and replacing them with his own managers from businesses such as Northwest, American, and PepsiCo. He hired Gregory D. Brenneman, a former Bain & Co. consultant with no previous airline experience, as his new COO. He grounded 41 planes, slashed capacity, and cut almost 5,000 jobs in 1995. He abolished most of the companys loss-making Continental Lite services. Then, with a guided focus solely on improving the airlines service to its customers, Bethune saw results. 1995 not only saw the company turn a profit for the first time since 1986, but saw it turn a hefty profit of $224 million.

As the 1990s drew to a close, the company focused on the goal of luring more high-paying business travelers back to its flights. To do so, Bethune tied company bonuses to on-time performance, as a means of improving the companys dismal last-place standing among major airlines for on-time performance in 1994. By early 1995, the airline had risen to a first place rank for the first time in the companys history. Bethune also brought back the frequent-flier program perks that had been cut during Fergusons reign and spent $8 million to put food back onto some flights so that Continental would appeal to hurried business travelers.

Although Continental was clearly on the road to recovery as it neared the turn of the century, it still faced many obstacles along its path to success. Namely, without a unique attribute to offer customersaside from convenience in its three hub locations onlythe airline was having a difficult time convincing passengers to stray from the other major airlines. Many analysts predicted that it would take a merger to give Continental the marketing capabilities and exposure necessary to pull itself to the top of the heap. But if the turnaround created by Bethune in 1995 and 1996 was any indication of the future, then the company seemed to possess the potential to regain the financial integrity that it had possessed during its early years.

Principal Subsidiaries

Air Micronesia, Inc.; Continental Express, Inc.; Continental Micronesia, Inc.

Further Reading

Banks, Howard, A Sixties Industry in a Nineties Economy, Forbes, May 9, 1994, p. 107.

Murphy, Michael, The Airline That Pride Almost Bought, New York: Watts, 1986.

Scippa, Ray, Point to Point, The Sixty Year History of Continental Airlines, Houston: Pioneer Publications, Inc., 1994.

Serling, Robert J., The Story of Robert Six and Continental Airlines, New York: Doubleday, 1974.

Zellner, Wendy, Back to Coffee, Tea, or Milk?, Business Week, July 3, 1995, p. 52.

, Why Continentals CEO Fell to Earth, Business Week, November 7, 1994, p. 32.

Laura E. Whiteley

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Continental Airlines, Inc.." International Directory of Company Histories. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Oct. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Continental Airlines, Inc.." International Directory of Company Histories. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/books/politics-and-business-magazines/continental-airlines-inc

"Continental Airlines, Inc.." International Directory of Company Histories. . Retrieved October 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/books/politics-and-business-magazines/continental-airlines-inc

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Continental Airlines, Inc.

Continental Airlines, Inc.

founded: 1934 (as varney speed lines)



Contact Information:

headquarters: 2929 allen pky., ste. 2010
houston, tx 77019 phone: (713)834-2950 fax: (713)834-2087 url: http://www.flycontinental.com

OVERVIEW

Continental Airlines is the fifth largest airline in the United States, flying to more than 120 domestic and about 70 international destinations. The company has recovered from years of financial struggles. In fact, the company's last year to turn a profit since CEO Gordon Bethune stepped in and rescued the company was 1986. With a new strategy in place he changed the way the airline operated, getting rid of many unprofitable businesses.

COMPANY FINANCES

In 1997 Continental posted net income of $385 million on revenues of $6.66 billion, as compared to 1995's net income of $319 million on revenues of $6.36 billion and 1995's net income of $224 million on revenues of $5.82 billion.

Trading on the New York Stock Exchange, Continental reports that there were "approximately 3,133 and 17,956 holders of record of its Class A common stock and Class B common stock, respectively." The company does not intend to pay out any cash dividends, but "may consider repurchase of its common stock under certain market conditions."

Continental reports that revenues increased in 1997 as compared to 1996 in the following areas:

  • Passenger revenue increased 13.4 percent, $789 million
  • Cargo revenue increased 13.6 percent, $21 million
  • Mail and other revenue increased 12.8 percent, $43 million
  • Wages, salaries, and related costs increased 16.3 percent, $236 million
  • Employee incentives increased 29.9 percent, $29 million
  • Aircraft fuel expense increased 14.3 percent, $111 million
  • Commissions expense increased 11.2 percent, $57 million
  • Aircraft rentals increased 8.3 percent, $42 million
  • Maintenance, materials, and repairs increased 16.5 percent, $76 million
  • Other rentals and landing fees increased 12.9 percent, $45 million. The company also reported that its financial and operating performance improved significantly in 1996 compared to 1997. This includes the strategic plan to strengthen operations and improve customer satisfaction and employee relations.

ANALYSTS' OPINIONS

While analysts have been impressed with Continental's comeback, most know it will take time for the company to cast off its old reputation for slow, poor service. With tremendous profits in comparison to previous years, most experts have remained hopeful. In February 1998 Continental's annual report stated that a five-year collective bargaining agreement with the company's pilots was met. Previous records have indicated that the company's average salary for its pilots, including pension, benefits, and payroll taxes, totaled $113,000 per pilot in the 12-month period ending September 30, 1996. This average wage falls short by 38 percent in comparison to other wages paid by major carriers such as Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, USAir, United Airlines, and Northwest Airlines. Continental intends to be wage competitive by the year 2000.

HISTORY

After Texas Air, a holding company for Texas International, bought Continental Airlines in 1982, the company faced financial losses exceeding $500 million between 1978 and 1983. Owned by Frank Lorenzo's Jet Capital Corporation, the company was forced to file bankruptcy, but came out of its heavy debt in 1986. It was the lowest-fare airline with the cheapest labor costs in the industry.

Texas Air moved on to buy other airlines in 1986, including Eastern Air Lines, People Express Airlines, and Frontier Airlines. Escalating financial difficulties forced bankruptcy court to replace Texas Air from Eastern's management in 1990 with Martin Shugrue as the trustee. It was then that Texas Air became Continental Airlines Holdings.

Due to high fuel prices and low flying traffic, Continental was also plunged into bankruptcy in 1990. It recovered in 1993 and appointed Gordon Bethune as CEO the following year with a new strategy in place, the company sought out a code-sharing agreement (an agreement between airlines to purchase regular flights on each others' planes) with CSA Czech Airlines, allowing Continental to enter new flight markets like Newark, Cincinnati, Norfolk, and Cleveland.

STRATEGY

With new CEO Gordon Bethune in the company's driver's seat, Continental launched a new growth strategy. First, the company aimed to increase its services in its three United States hubs: Cleveland, Houston, and Newark. Second, it set its sights on expansion efforts in markets other than the United States, particularly where it has historically been strong. Lastly, Continental Airlines sold its businesses that were causing monetary losses, like Continental Lite.

Bethune has also restructured many operations to make flights more convenient for customers. Continental has made great efforts to improve baggage handling, clean planes more thoroughly, including scheduling additional paint jobs, and add more food on several flights. An employee bonus incentive program has been established to help the company better serve its customers and, in turn, increase its traffic.

INFLUENCES

The company's long history of financial struggles has prompted drastic changes. Trying to benefit from the cost advantages it had over other airlines, Continental's former CEO Frank Lorenzo did away with labor contracts and drove the company into bankruptcy. Customer service was deemed less important than turning a profit, ultimately causing the company to suffer.

Under the leadership of CEO Gordon Bethune, Continental strives for better business practices. Quality is an important factor, as the airline continues to work toward improving customer satisfaction. Additional earlier flights have better accommodated business travelers, along with additional domestic and international flights which strengthen alliances. Money-losing businesses were dropped, with increased attention to creating more traffic in its existing hubs.

A survey done in June 1996 showed Continental to be first among other airlines in customer service for flights longer than 500 miles. The previous year it had ranked last among nine major carriers. Former analysts stated the company's new image will take time to develop. 1996's net income of $319 million was a 42.2 percent increase from 1995. In 1997 the company reported a net income of $385 million with $1 billion in cash and cash equivalents.

CURRENT TRENDS

In keeping with its newfound strategy, Continental has been operating in ways to increase business. Acquisitions, merger talks, and an intensive focus on customer satisfaction have all composed more recent trends for the company. In the late 1990s the company was using its proven strategy for growth opportunities. Intending to increase traffic, Continental announced a bid made in April 1997 for a 20-percent interest in Argentine carrier Aerolineas Argentinas. The company's interest in the airline exemplifies its efforts to expand in profitable markets.

FAST FACTS: About Continental Airlines, Inc.


Ownership: Continental Airlines, Inc. is a publicly owned company traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

Ticker symbol: CAIB

Officers: Gordon M. Bethune, Chmn. & CEO, 56, 1997 base salary $755,750; Lawrence W. Kellner, Exec. VP & CFO, 39, 1997 base salary $427,172; Gregory D. Brenneman, 36, base salary $583,410

Employees: 39,300 (17,100 customer service agents, reservation agents, ramp, and other airport personnel; 7,000 flight attendants; 6,300 management and clerical employees; 5,500 pilots; 3,300 mechanics; and 100 dispatchers)

Principal Subsidiary Companies: Continental Airlines, Inc.'s wholly owned subsidiaries are Continental Express, Inc. ("Express") and Continental Micronesia, Inc. ("CMI"), serving 191 airports globally.

Chief Competitors: The airline industry vies with its competitors who may have more resources and lower cost structures. Some primary competitors include: Air France; Alaska Air; and All Nippon Airways.




Another interest Continental has shown has been for a possible merger with Delta Air Lines in late 1996. If the merger were to come full circle, the two companies would form the largest airline in the world. Sources have said Continental initiated the merger talks with Delta. With Delta's stronger presence in Europe, Continental would gain greater access there, while Delta would benefit from Continental's strengths in South and Central America.

Continental has formed a significant alliance with Northwest. The joint venture includes the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. The alliance includes schedule and airport facility coordination and other activities.

The company has aimed to maintain its high ratings with customers as it has implemented a new frequent flier policy. In an attempt to attract other airlines' customers, Continental has targeted elite passengers with the automatic enrollment of its One Pass frequent-flyer program if customers have existing elite status from another airline. Looking to capitalize on the business travel market, the company has hoped to attract business passengers who often purchase last-minute tickets at much higher rates.

CORPORATE CITIZENSHIP

The company's recent success has brought much attention and praise. Since 1995 Continental Airlines, Inc. has received numerous awards for its performance. In 1995 it was named Business Week's NYSE "Stock of the Year." Fortune also name its stock "Best Investment" of 1995. The following year it earned the J.D. Power/Frequent Flyer award for Best Airline for Customer Satisfaction for Flights 500 Miles or More. Two other awards were given to the company in 1997 as well. In February the company was called "Airline of the Year" by Air Transport World, and in April, Smart Money magazine named Continental's Business First the top business class among U.S. Airlines.

GLOBAL PRESENCE

As of 1998, Continental Airlines, Inc. provides service to 125 cities in the United States. It also services 66 international destinations to Asia, Australia, Europe, and Latin America. The company's hubs are in Cleveland at Hopkins International Airport; Houston at George Bush Intercontinental Airport; and Newark at Newark International. With the company's recent alliance with Northwest, Continental will "connect with Northwest's hubs in Minneapolis, Detroit, and Memphis." With its new code-sharing agreement with CSA Czech Airlines, Continental has increased its service in Newark and Cleveland as well.

Upgrading its reputation, as of March 1998 Continental has commitments to purchase 154 jet aircraft from Boeing Co., estimated to be a $6.7-billion investment. Awaiting board approval, Continental's decision stems from its plans for international expansion.

EMPLOYMENT

Continental believes their employees are its greatest resource, with strengths in reliability and providing customer satisfaction. The company utilizes a varied communication process with its employees, which includes updates on company oriented bulletins, publications, and videotapes.

CHRONOLOGY: Key Dates for Continental Airlines, Inc.


1937:

Robert Forman Six purchases 40 percent interest in Varney Speed Lines and changes the name to Continental Airlines

1945:

Continental acquires numerous aircraft through military surplus

1955:

Service rights between Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles bring the company into competition with other national carriers for the first time

1964:

Forms Continental Air Services to transport U.S. troops to and from southeast Asia

1980:

Continental attempts to merge with Western Airlines

1981:

Texas Airlines acquires Continental

1983:

Continental files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

1990:

Texas Airlines changes their name to Continental Airlines Holdings, Inc.

1996:

A survey shows Continental to be first in customer service for flights longer than 500 miles

SOURCES OF INFORMATION

Bibliography

boisseau, charles. "continental's net income soars; pilots to seek big wage increases." houston chronicle, 21 january 1997. available at http://www.chron.com.

"continental airlines." aeroworldnet, 27 january 1997. available at http://www.aeroworldnet.com.

"continental airlines, inc." hoover's online, 23 august 1998. available at http://www.hoovers.com.

continental airlines, inc.'s home page, may 1998. available at http://www.flycontinental.com.

"continental airlines interested in buying stake in aerolineas argentinas." san diego daily transcript, 9 april 1997. available at http://www.sddt.com.

"continental to fly solo with boeing?" msnbc, 1997. available at http://www.msnbc.com.

graczyk, michael. "continental airlines shows improved earnings." san diego daily transcript, 22 april 1996. available at http://sddt.com.

levere, jane l. "continental airlines is wooing elite-level frequent fliers from its competitors." the new york times, 31 january 1996. available at http://search.nytimes.com.

schwartz, karen. "delta, continental holding merger talks." san diego daily transcript, 4 december 1996. available at http://www.sddt.com.

For an annual report:

on the internet at: http://www.edgar-online.com

For additional industry research:

investigate companies by their standard industrial classification codes, also known as sics. continental's primary sic is:

4512 air transport scheduled

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Continental Airlines, Inc.." Company Profiles for Students. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Oct. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Continental Airlines, Inc.." Company Profiles for Students. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/economics/economics-magazines/continental-airlines-inc

"Continental Airlines, Inc.." Company Profiles for Students. . Retrieved October 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/economics/economics-magazines/continental-airlines-inc

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.