The Final Days of the Continental Name (but Continental Itself Lives On)

Continental, Mergers/Finance, United

There are a lot of different milestones that can be used to determine when a merger is truly complete. The one I always use is when you can no longer book a flight on both airlines. The Continental Name Fades AwayFor United and Continental, that day comes this Saturday.

In the wee hours of early Saturday morning, United’s Apollo reservations system will be shut down in favor of Continental’s SHARES system. In fact, we’ll see a lot kept from the Continental side, even though the United name will reign supreme.

Beginning on Saturday, you will no longer be able to book a flight on Continental – they’ll all be on United. This is great news . . . not that the Continental name is disappearing but rather that there is only one airline to deal with. This means no more problems of working with two different airlines even though they’re really one.

Considering I spent over an hour trying to use a Mileage Plus member’s miles to upgrade a Continental flight last week, this piece of the merger couldn’t come soon enough.

Of course, the transition won’t be easy. It never is. The United reservations folks will now be forced to use an unfamiliar system. Training undoubtedly helps, but it’s still a big change. And then there’s the physical switch itself.

It is no small task taking all that reservation data, putting it into a new system, and then hoping it all works as planned. It’s never a perfect transition. Remember when US Airways and America West flipped the switch? There were a lot of problems.

So, if you’re flying United for the week beginning this Saturday, give yourself some extra time at the airport just in case. Here are some other things to keep in mind.

Since the airlines are moving to Continental’s reservation system, it’s those record locators (confirmation numbers) that will survive. If you booked on United before the system switch, I would assume that there will be a mechanism for the new system to still recognize those old numbers when you try to use them. But if you had a split reservation with both United and Continental flights, you’ll be fine just remembering the Continental number going forward.

UPDATE: I just received clarification from someone at United that this is not quite what’s happening. Both United reservations and Continental reservations will be transferred into a new SHARES system, so there will be a new reservation number assigned to each reservation. If you have a reservation with both United and Continental flights, you will have three record locators: the old United one, the old Continental one, and the new combined United one. The key point? Any of them will work when you try to pull up your reservation.

The Website
If you’re one of the few people who love the not-so-affectionately nicknamed United.bomb website, then you’ll be sad to know that the Continental website is the survivor.

It’s really going to be a carbon copy of the current Continental website. For a pre-production version of the new site, head over to and you can play around.

March 3 also will be the effective date of the new MileagePlus combined frequent flier program. If you have a Continental OnePass number, that will be your Mileage Plus number. If you have a current Mileage Plus number from United, then that’s toast.

If you had both and linked them, then you’ll just consolidate under the Continental number. If you never had a OnePass number, you’ll be getting a new one from United.

Patience is the key in the next couple weeks. If you’re flying United, it could be rough going as the systems combine, but in the end, it will be a much better experience since the airlines will operate as one.

There are more things to be merged, but most of those aren’t as visible to travelers. This is the big weekend.

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25 comments on “The Final Days of the Continental Name (but Continental Itself Lives On)

  1. Ah well, resistance is futile and all that. Personally, I don’t like the Continental website layout; much as you speak ill of the United one, Brett, it doesn’t look like it was designed by individuals who prefer to write in crayon.

    As for the merger itself, I’m over it. My trip in Jan was a mixed UA/CO itinerary, but all flights were good (and we even conned a rather bored but amusing member of the CO crew into providing the odd complimentary JD on the rocks). Just hope I can manage to make some mileage bookings on the new site…..

    1. +1 Functionality is great but way too cluttered. However, at least it works consistently. In fact, that’s kind of what I feel overall about Continental. Their brand doesn’t have a rich background or aura like UA or AA, but they’re efficient and get stuff done.

  2. One thing that worked really well on the United website is that if you chose schedule over price, it displayed the outbound flights on the left and return on the right. It was very quick to mix and match flights versus scrolling through the endless combination of flights on the Continental website (many of which are dumb routings). I guess I’ll use Kayak which has almost a similar functionality.

  3. Just curious, but do you have any idea which system of boarding will be adopted for the new United? I know that Continental boards by rows (rows at the back board first), while United boards using a weird zone system (it seems that aisle seats board last). I found this out when I flew to Guatemala last January on both airlines, and I find it quite disappointing that the people who have aisle seats get no more overhead space, when the plane is jam-packed (and thus, is the selling point for United’s “Premier Line”).

    1. It’ll be United’s system for general members – window, middle, aisle. Also, new groups (formerly zones) have been implemented: basically in the order of disabled persons, military in uniform, Global Services, first class/business class and all other premiers (in the order of eliteness), credit card holders, and everyone else.

  4. sad to lose my MP# and the website. Can’t say that CO’s reservation system is all that great. my real bone to pick is with the award reservation system. gone is the flexible search and being able to pick and choose the outbound and return on the same screen. huge step backwards. You would have thought they could have created a new site that used the best pieces of each site. once again in my opinion the UA site has better features. RIP real

    1. I don’t know anything specific about the migration, but I’d guess the basic focus right now is to pull the sites together under one roof, then cherry pick the functionality. You’ve gotta have a solid core that you’re building ontop of and that appears to be what they’re focusing on.

    2. Actually, there is a flexible search option on CO’s website. Problem is, it’s a color coded calendar that’s a bit confusing to decipher. I never could really figure out if the “business saver award available” color code meant that was the only saver type award available, or if that meant both coach and business were available. Click on the date, and sometimes both would be available, sometimes only biz.

      On the other hand, CO allows booking of certain partner awards online, whereas UA made you call the MP call center – usually to be told “no availability” anywhere near when you wanted to travel. That will definitely be a plus of keeping the CO website.

  5. Glad to see the Continental frequent flyer numbers staying. Of all my frequent flyer numbers, the only two I can remember are my Continental and American ones — the two that use relatively short alphanumeric combos instead of long, numeral-only numbers — even though I haven’t regularly used my Continental number since about 2004.

  6. Brett, it’s as much an end to much of what was UA as it is an end to much of CO.

    It’s quite clear that, regardless of the name on the side of the plane, the ticketing code, operating certificate, and travel agency ticketing “plate” code, a considerable amount of the surviving airline will be based on CO.

    Look at how the airline is keeping the (bland) CO livery, product names like BusinessFirst, going to SHARES, etc. This merger is unlike DL-NW, where only Visone got the red out faster than DL eradicated almost anything to do with NW.

    It’s my understanding the at the legacy 11-digit MP account numbers will be accepted by UA through the end of March. I learned this when I called UA to request they switch a reservation for a trip March 4-5 to the new account number. The agent informed me the account number would “automatically change with the cutover” and also advised about the “grace period” for acceptance of the legacy MP numbers.

    Some advice for MP members: If you’re earning miles from Mileage Plus partners, such as a hotel or rental car provider, remember to change your MP number to your new “OnePass-style” 8-character alphanumeric account number.

  7. I presume CO flight numbers are gone and it will be only UA numbers?

    my understanding was that they were already pretty short on flight numbers as it is – any plan to streamline them? still using CO-XYZ anyway?
    (ie no more return flights with same number – my understanding is thats been a headache for operations for some time)

    1. That’s correct, but they had actually prepared for this awhile ago. There is no overlap between flight numbers now anyway, so it’s just that the CO code disappears.

  8. My compliments on this fine and comprehensive article, Brett. But on one smaller, but important point, I believe CO flights will actually continue till at least December of this year. The first leg of a booked CAE to CDG trip in December of this year for my wife and I (CAE–IAD) is solely a CO flight. Think this has something to do with sorting out priority lists for pilots and FAs (and others?) before they can just go UA solely.

    1. @John, I’m curious: It’s my understanding from UA that all mainline CO and UA flights have been assigned “duplicate” corresponding flights numbers, so that on merger day flight CO 1 (for example) disappears and is replaced by UA 1. It’s possible that perhaps the UA flight number is not yet visible. Though the CO code is slated to end March 3 for mainline flights, internally United may continue to operate with sub-divided crews (sub CO, sub UA) until seniority lists are merged and all required aircraft training has been completed.


      1. Henry, I’ll be double-checking on March 3rd (and thereafter), but right now it’s still showing as just CO 5741, with no UA number, on the UA website. Now the last return leg–IAD–CAE, is just UA 5743, with no reference to CO.

  9. Don’t think this is a merger. About the only things that I see remaining the same are the fact that UNITED is still on the side of the planes. Somewhat smaller type face. Pity the United tulip bit the dust. The new UA is so very staid and old. United had a much better design. Also, bowing to the pressure of United loyalists, the new United still will have one of the best entertainment channels – – – Cockpit and ATC conversation.

  10. Well, they’re already screwing some of their best customers. Just called to have my SWUs printed and mailed for use on an LH flight. This is pretty much my only paid business class trip this year, so my only chance at using the SWUs before they expire. Was told, “Sorry, because of the system merger this weekend, we’re unable to print out the certificates.”

    Apparently, merging computer systems disables printers.

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