<PAGE>
 
                      SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
                            Washington, D.C. 20549


                                 SCHEDULE 13G
                   Under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934




                          Continental Airlines, Inc.
- --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                               (Name of Issuer)



                     Class B Common Stock, $.01 par value
- --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                        (Title of Class of Securities)




                                   210795308
                  --------------------------------------------
                                (CUSIP Number)

                              Page 1 of 10 Pages

<PAGE>
 
- -----------------------                                  
  CUSIP NO. 210795308                   13G              
- -----------------------                                  
 
- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      NAME OF REPORTING PERSON
 1    I.R.S. IDENTIFICATION NO. OF ABOVE PERSON
                  
      Goldman, Sachs & Co.

- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      CHECK THE APPROPRIATE BOX IF A MEMBER OF A GROUP*
 2                                                              (a) [_]
                                                                (b) [_]
                                                 
- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      SEC USE ONLY
 3
 

- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      CITIZENSHIP OR PLACE OF ORGANIZATION
 4    
      New York

- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                          SOLE VOTING POWER
                     5   
     NUMBER OF            0
 
      SHARES       -----------------------------------------------------------
                          SHARED VOTING POWER
   BENEFICIALLY      6
                          2,758,774
     OWNED BY
                   -----------------------------------------------------------
       EACH               SOLE DISPOSITIVE POWER
                     7    
    REPORTING             0
 
      PERSON       -----------------------------------------------------------
                          SHARED DISPOSITIVE POWER
       WITH          8
                          2,888,474
- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      AGGREGATE AMOUNT BENEFICIALLY OWNED BY EACH REPORTING PERSON
 9  
      2,888,474

- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      CHECK BOX IF THE AGGREGATE AMOUNT IN ROW (9) EXCLUDES CERTAIN SHARES*
10                  
                                                                    [_]
 
- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      PERCENT OF CLASS REPRESENTED BY AMOUNT IN ROW 9
11    
      5.7%

- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      TYPE OF REPORTING PERSON*
12
      BD-PN-IA

- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------

                     *SEE INSTRUCTIONS BEFORE FILLING OUT!


                              Page 2 of 10 pages

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- -----------------------                                  
  CUSIP NO. 210795308                   13G              
- -----------------------                                  
 
- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      NAME OF REPORTING PERSON
 1    I.R.S. IDENTIFICATION NO. OF ABOVE PERSON
      
      The Goldman Sachs Group, L.P.

- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      CHECK THE APPROPRIATE BOX IF A MEMBER OF A GROUP*
 2                                                              (a) [_]
                                                                (b) [_]
                                                 
- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      SEC USE ONLY
 3
 

- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      CITIZENSHIP OR PLACE OF ORGANIZATION
 4    
      Delaware

- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                          SOLE VOTING POWER
                     5   
     NUMBER OF            0        
 
      SHARES       -----------------------------------------------------------
                          SHARED VOTING POWER
   BENEFICIALLY      6
                          2,758,774
     OWNED BY
                   -----------------------------------------------------------
       EACH               SOLE DISPOSITIVE POWER
                     7    
    REPORTING             0             
 
      PERSON       -----------------------------------------------------------
                          SHARED DISPOSITIVE POWER
       WITH          8
                          2,888,474
- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      AGGREGATE AMOUNT BENEFICIALLY OWNED BY EACH REPORTING PERSON
 9  
      2,888,474

- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      CHECK BOX IF THE AGGREGATE AMOUNT IN ROW (9) EXCLUDES CERTAIN SHARES*
10                  
                                                                    [_]
 
- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      PERCENT OF CLASS REPRESENTED BY AMOUNT IN ROW 9
11    
      5.7%

- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      TYPE OF REPORTING PERSON*
12
      HC-PN

- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------

                     *SEE INSTRUCTIONS BEFORE FILLING OUT!


                               Page 3 of 10 pages


<PAGE>
 
Item 1(a).     Name of Issuer:
               Continental Airlines, Inc.

Item 1(b).     Address of Issuer's Principal Executive Offices:
               2929 Allen Parkway, Suite 2010
               Houston, TX  77019

Item 2(a).     Name of Persons Filing:
               Goldman, Sachs & Co. and The Goldman Sachs Group, L.P.

Item 2(b).     Address of Principal Business Office or, if None, Residence:
               85 Broad Street
               New York, NY  10004

Item 2(c).     Citizenship:
               Goldman, Sachs & Co. - New York
               The Goldman Sachs Group, L.P. - Delaware

Item 2(d).     Title and Class of Securities:
               Class B Common Stock, $.01 par value

Item 2(e).     CUSIP Number:
               210795308

Item 3.        If this statement is filed pursuant to Rules 13d-1(b), or
               13d-2(b), check whether the person filing is a:

      (a).X    Broker or dealer registered under Section 15 of the Act, 
                      Goldman, Sachs & Co.

      (b).     Bank as defined in Section 3(a)(6) of the Act, 

      (c).     Insurance Company as defined in Section 3(a)(19) of the Act,

      (d).     Investment Company registered under Section 8 of the Investment
               Company Act,

      (e).X    Investment Adviser registered under Section 203 of the Investment
               Advisers Act of 1940, 
                      Goldman, Sachs & Co.

      (f).     Employee Benefit Plan, Pension Fund which is subject to the
               provisions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974
               or Endowment Fund; see 13d-1(b)(1)(ii)(F),

                              Page 4 of 10 Pages

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      (g).X    Parent Holding Company, in accordance with Rule 13d-1(b)(ii)(G);
               see Item 7, 
                      The Goldman Sachs Group, L.P.

      (h).     Group, in accordance with Rule 13d-1(b)(ii)(H).


Item 4.        Ownership.*

      (a).     Amount beneficially owned:
               See the response(s) to Item 9 on the attached cover page(s).

      (b).     Percent of Class:
               See the response(s) to Item 11 on the attached cover page(s).

      (c).     Number of shares as to which such person has:

               (i).     Sole power to vote or to direct the vote:
                               See the response(s) to Item 5 on the attached
                               cover page(s).

               (ii).    Shared power to vote or to direct the vote:
                               See the response(s) to Item 6 on the attached
                               cover page(s).

               (iii).   Sole power to dispose or to direct the disposition of:
                               See the response(s) to Item 7 on the attached 
                               cover page(s).

               (iv).    Shared power to dispose or to direct the disposition of:
                               See the response(s) to Item 8 on the attached
                               cover page(s).

Item 5.        Ownership of Five Percent or Less of a Class.
                        Not Applicable

Item 6.        Ownership of More than Five Percent on Behalf of Another Person.
                        Not Applicable

Item 7.        Identification and Classification of the Subsidiary Which
               Acquired the Security Being Reported on by the Parent Holding
               Company.
                        See Exhibit (99.2)



- ------------------------
*    The Goldman Sachs Group, L.P. ("GS Group") and Goldman, Sachs & Co.
("Goldman Sachs") each disclaim beneficial ownership of the Class B Common Stock
beneficially owned by (i) managed accounts and (ii) certain investment limited
partnerships, of which a subsidiary of GS Group or Goldman Sachs is the general
partner or managing general partner, to the extent partnership interests in such
partnerships are held by persons other than GS Group, Goldman Sachs or their
affiliates.

                              Page 5 of 10 Pages

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Item 8.        Identification and Classification of Members of the Group.
                      Not Applicable

Item 9.        Notice of Dissolution of Group.
                      Not Applicable

Item 10.       Certification.

               By signing below I certify that, to the best of my knowledge and
               belief, the securities referred to above were acquired in the
               ordinary course of business and were not acquired for the purpose
               of and do not have the effect of changing or influencing the
               control of the issuer of such securities and were not acquired in
               connection with or as a participant in any transaction having
               such purpose or effect.

                              Page 6 of 10 Pages

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                                   SIGNATURE

               After reasonable inquiry and to the best of my knowledge and
               belief, I certify that the information set forth in this
               statement is true, complete and correct.


Date:  February 14, 1998


                                  THE GOLDMAN SACHS GROUP, L.P.


                                  By:    /s/ Hans L. Reich
                                         ------------------------------------
                                  Name:  Hans L. Reich
                                  Title: Attorney-in-fact



                                  GOLDMAN, SACHS & CO.


                                  By:    /s/ Hans L. Reich
                                         ------------------------------------
                                  Name:  Hans L. Reich
                                  Title: Attorney-in-fact

                              Page 7 of 10 Pages

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                               INDEX TO EXHIBITS




Exhibit No.          Exhibit
- -----------          -------

   99.1              Joint Filing Agreement, dated February 14, 1998, between
                     The Goldman Sachs Group, L.P. and Goldman, Sachs & Co.

   99.2              Item 7 Information

                              Page 8 of 10 Pages

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                                                                  EXHIBIT (99.1)
        



                            JOINT FILING AGREEMENT



     In accordance with Rule 13d-1(f) promulgated under the Securities Exchange
Act of 1934, the undersigned agree to the joint filing of a Statement on
Schedule 13G (including any and all amendments thereto) with respect to the
Class B Common Stock, $.01 par value of Continental Airlines, Inc., and further
agree to the filing of this agreement as an Exhibit thereto. In addition, each
party to this Agreement expressly authorizes each other party to this Agreement
to file on its behalf any and all amendments to such Statement on Schedule 13G.



Date:  February 14, 1998


                               THE GOLDMAN SACHS GROUP, L.P.


                               By:    /s/ Hans L. Reich
                                      ---------------------------------------
                               Name:  Hans L. Reich
                               Title: Attorney-in-fact



                               GOLDMAN, SACHS & CO.


                               By:    /s/ Hans L. Reich
                                      ---------------------------------------
                               Name:  Hans L. Reich
                               Title: Attorney-in-fact

                              Page 9 of 10 Pages

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                                                                 EXHIBIT (99.2)



                              ITEM 7 INFORMATION



     Goldman, Sachs & Co. is a broker or dealer registered under Section 15 of
the Act and an investment adviser registered under Section 203 of the Investment
Advisers Act of 1940.

                              Page 10 of 10 Pages