I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while now, so I guess it’s still better late than never. There are a lot of senior flight attendants that live in Tampa and commute to Washington, doing nothing but Asia and Europe flying. I end up talking to them all the time because I usually end up sitting next to them (and have been flying with them between Tampa and Washington for over five years now). Surprisingly, the flight attendants living in Tampa are usually pretty on top of their stuff when it comes to knowing what’s going on at United.
So last week when I showed up for my usual 9AM flight to Washington, I saw some of the flight attendant “regulars” standing around talking. The first thing I heard from one of Tampa’s more outspoken flight attendants was “Did you hear they’re going to take our Amsterdam and Zurich flights and give them to those kids at Continental? If I have to go back to flying domestic, I’ll die.”
One of the biggest labor challenges the new United will face will be integrating the seniority lists of the two airlines. United’s flight attendants are generally more senior than Continental’s, so don’t be surprised to hear United flight attendant refer to Continental flight attendants as “kids/babies,” or Continental flight attendants to refer to United’s flight attendants as “grandmas” (I’ve heard those terms from both sides over the past few weeks). So the challenge will be how to integrate those seniority lists. United employees wants an “absolute” seniority list, meaning seniority is determined by hire date. Continental employees want a “relative” seniority list, which would mean that a flight attendant that has been at Continental longer than a counterpart at United could end up more senior.
Anyway, back to the topic of this post. Like I said, United and Continental are starting to seriously cross-fleet, meaning that Continental aircraft will operate certain United routes, while United aircraft will operate certain Continental routes. The changes we’ll see are as follows:
Newark to Brussels as of September 29, 2011, United 777 replaces Continental 767-400ER
UA960 EWR1825 – 0745+1BRU
UA961 BRU0945 – 1150EWR
Newark to Zurich as of June 10, 2011, United 767-300ER replaces Continental 767-200ER
UA978 EWR1835 – 0840+1ZRH
UA979 ZRH1010 – 1315EWR
Washington Dulles to Amsterdam as of September 1, 2011 Continental 757 replaces United 777
CO124 IAD1725 – 0705+1AMS
CO125 AMS1215 – 1510IAD
Washington Dulles to Paris as of June 9, 2011 Continental 757 replaces United 777 and as of September 29, 2011, service increases from 1 to 2 daily
CO130 IAD1715 – 0655+1CDG 29SEP11-
CO138 IAD2145 – 1125+1CDG
CO131 CDG1225 – 1530IAD 30SEP11-
CO133 CDG1700 – 2005IAD
Look, in theory I understand the point of cross-fleeting. When you have a varied fleet you can fit aircraft type to meet demand on a specific route better than you otherwise could. But maximizing profit goes far beyond putting a certain type of aircraft on a route. That’s what inventory management and revenue management are there for. In other words, I’m arguing that a difference of a dozen or so seats ultimately isn’t going to make United any more profitable.
But the downsides are endless. United is flying their planes out of Newark, which will mostly be populated by Continental elites, while Continental is flying their planes out of Washington Dulles, which will mostly be populated by United elites. Unfortunately, until further integration occurs, Continental elites can’t use their systemwide upgrades on United, United elites can’t use their systemwide upgrades on Continental, and United elites don’t earn lifetime miles towards million miler status (at least for the time being) when flying Continental. Furthermore, United elites, who are used to Economy Plus have a good chance of not getting Economy Plus on Continental, while Continental elites, who aren’t used to Economy Plus, will start getting it.
But that’s not even my biggest issue. My biggest issue is actually that this hurts employee morale. Once the merger is complete, the employees choose their unions, and seniority lists are integrated, there won’t be any huge issues. However, in the meantime, flight attendants and pilots (on both sides) feel like they’re having “their” routes stolen from them. Once seniority lists are integrated, everything is fair game, but in the meantime, you’re only going to annoy your employees. That’s why this all surprises me. At least in theory, Continental has always been a fairly employee friendly company, so why they would do this is beyond me.
The other big question for me is what’s going to happen to the Aer Lingus codeshare United operates between Washington Dulles and Madrid. United started the service a couple of years ago using Aer Lingus planes and Aer Lingus crews, seemingly with the only intention being to save a bit of money on the crews. It was a very low blow, in my opinion, and I hope to see them discontinue the service and operate it on their own aircraft.
The upside to all this? Continental award availability over the summer out of Washington Dulles is amazing!