From the perspective of a frequent flyer, I’ve had (3) main questions about a United-Continental merger.
- Starnet blocking. United is the only airline in the Star Alliance that will not allow its mileage members to book any award seat taht its partners offer to them. United often doesn’t want to pay for the seats, to they program their computers to respond that award seats other Star Alliance carriers are offering “aren’t available.” Continental has explicitly rejected such a strategy. This month blocking has been at a minimum, though that’s part of the normal cycle (I usually see blocking at its lightest in February/May/August/November). So I’m not ready to take this as a clue that blocking is done for a merged entity. Whether or not blocking exists in the combined entity is – to me – the difference between whether Continental miles are just made less valuable as a result of the merger, or whether United miles become more valuable.
- Two-cabin or three-cabin aircraft? United offers international business class and first class. Granted their first class cabin soft product is weak — no pajamas, amenity kits aren’t high-end branded, meals don’t feature rare and expensive offerings like caviar or truffles, and there’s no Dom or Krug. But it’s a smaller cabin with better seats and more space. It’s better than business! Continental on the other hand offers business class only. They call it ‘BusinessFirst’ and once marketed it as a hybrid between business class and first class, but they don’t even have industry-standard flat bed seats fleet wide, it’s a subpar business product not a notch above. And they even fly narrowbodies transatlantic. Will the combined entity continue to play in the international first class market? My guess is not, though those long-haul transpacific routes really call for it. Here’s hoping that the Continental leadership gets bitten by the bug of needing to be a world-class airline once they’re the largest…
- Economy plus? United offers coach seats with extra legroom for free to elites, and for purchase to everyone else. Continental does not. It’s a huge elite benefit for those times you’re stuck in coach. What would a merged entity do here? American used to offer ‘more room throughout coach’, extra pitch for everybody, and reconfigured the cabin to take htat away. It’s possible to remove the better seat configuration just as it’s possible to add it. And you’d think they’d have to strive for consistency fleet-wide, at least eventually.On this last piece, Wandering Aramean thinks he’s caught a clue as to Continental’s intentions in their announcement of planned Boeing 787 service from Houston to Auckland. If the airline’s press release is right on number of planned seats in the aircraft, the cabin dimensions suggest an economy plus offering.
Now, of course there are other questions, and we don’t know the answers yet. Will United Red Carpet clubs offer complimentary alcoholic beverages? Will there be a 75,000-mile elite tier added to the 25/50/100k mix? What will happen to capacity at Washington-Dulles (with Continental’s strength at Newark) and Cleveland (with United’s strength at O’Hare)? And many many more.
But the above three questions are the ‘biggies’ from my own value-proposition perspective.