Well, the merger of United and Continental(CO) is complete. The last CO flight took off late last night, and the last CO flight to land will arrive in Houston today at 12:35 P.M. central time. The merger was legally completed quite some time ago, but the airlines operated as separate airlines until today. I will miss Continental. They had more comfortable first class seats, better food, live television via direct TV on most domestic flights, and systemwide upgrades (SWU’s, earned by elite passengers) that could be used to upgrade any paid airfare (such as coach to international business class). I also thought CO had above-average customer service and slightly better lounges than United.
Unfortunately, most of the good things about CO are being lost in the merger. Of particular dismay to me is that SWU upgrades now can only be used on more expensive booking fares, which means you have to pay about $400 more for a long-haul plane ticket to try to upgrade it, which is really frustrating because you usually don’t know if an upgrade will clear. It really sucks to pay $400 more for a ticket then end up in coach anyway because the upgrade didn’t clear.
United used to be one of the few airlines not to charge for booking last-minute award tickets. Of course after the merger, they decided to be more like CO and charge up to $75 for booking an award ticket less than 21 days before departure. That is BS because on a lot of flights, award seats are not even available until the last minute.
One good thing on United that did survive the merger is Economy Plus. The first ten or so rows of the economy cabin have a few extra inches of legroom. Elite passengers can sit up there for free. Economy plus is gradually being added to former Continental aircraft, although so far very few have gotten it. As a top-tier elite on Continental, I usually would get upgraded to first class on domestic flights for free, or at least get an exit row seat, so I didn’t need economy plus that badly.
For now, I will keep flying the new United, as I’ve got top-tier elite on them and want to continue enjoying elite benefits. And even after the changes, I still think the merged airline has the best mileage program.