Thank you for the opportunity to discuss the benefits and answer any questions related to the planned merger of equals between Continental Airlines and United Airlines that we announced on May 3. As we said at the time, this transaction will enable us to provide enhanced long-term career prospects for our more than 87,000 employees and superior service to our customers, especially those in small communities throughout the United States. Our combined company will be well-positioned to succeed in an increasingly competitive global and domestic aviation industry – better positioned than either airline would be standing alone or as alliance partners.
This merger will provide consumers access to 350 destinations in 59 countries around the world. We will offer a comprehensive network in the United States, and we will have strategically located international gateways to Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and Canada from well-placed domestic hubs throughout the country. We will have 10 hubs, eight in the continental U.S. (Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, New York/Newark, San Francisco and Washington Dulles) and two others in Guam and in Tokyo. We will continue to provide service to all of the communities that our companies serve today.
This merger comes at a critical juncture for the U.S. aviation industry, which has confronted extremely difficult business challenges for the last decade. During this time, our industry has lost over 150,000 jobs, and there have been nearly 40 bankruptcies since 2001. U.S. airlines have lost a total of $60 billion since 2001.
While the economy and our industry are beginning to slowly recover from the worldwide recession, we continue to be subject to the volatility of fuel prices and an intensely competitive environment in all of our markets.
As individual companies, we have taken significant steps to respond to these challenges. United went through a bankruptcy restructuring and both airlines have become more efficient and reduced our cost structures. But to survive, we have also been forced to reduce the number of aircraft we fly, the number of destinations we serve and the number of people we employ.
At the same time, we have made significant operational improvements. United now ranks as the leading U.S. global airline in on-time performance as measured by the Department of Transportation, and Continental is regularly recognized in independent surveys for the high quality of its customer service. Through our joint venture and alliance relationships, we have provided enhanced benefits to our customers and achieved substantial synergies.
While we are proud of these recent improvements at our companies, we believe it is clearly in the best interests of our customers, employees, shareholders and the communities we serve to bring our two airlines together in a merger. This merger will provide a platform to build a more financially stable airline that can invest in our product and our people to succeed in a highly competitive environment and be better able to withstand future economic downturns and challenges. The fact is that sustained profitability is the only way to improve service and reward employees over the long term.
The Merger Will Benefit Customers
By bringing together two of the most complementary route networks of any U.S. carriers, the merger of Continental and United will give travelers expanded access to an unparalleled global network. It combines United’s Midwest, West Coast and Pacific routes with Continental’s service in New York/New Jersey, the East Coast, the South, Latin America and across the Atlantic.
Customers will have access to 116 new domestic destinations; 40 will be new to United customers, and 76 will be new to Continental customers. The merger will create more than 1,000 new domestic connecting city pairs served by the combined carrier, providing additional convenience to customers.
Our fully optimized fleets and routes will provide greater flexibility, options, connectivity and convenience for customers. This improved connectivity and direct service options, as well as improved service, are expected to enable the combined airline to generate $800-$900 million in annual revenue synergies – and these synergies are not dependent on fare increases.
Importantly, the combined airline will be better able to enhance the travel experience for our customers through investments in technology, the acquisition of new planes and the implementation of the best practices of both airlines. The new airline will be more cost effective; we expect to realize cost-savings synergies of $200-$300 million per year, mostly through reductions in overhead such as rationalizing our two information technology platforms, combining facilities and corporate functions such as finance, marketing, sales and advertising.
We will have one of the youngest and most fuel-efficient fleets among the major U.S. network carriers, as well as the flexibility to manage our fleet more effectively. With one of the best new aircraft order books in the industry, we will also be able to retire older, less efficient aircraft. This will result not only in greater efficiency but less environmental impact from our fleet.
Once the merger is complete, customers will also participate in the industry’s leading frequent flyer program, which will give millions of members more opportunities to earn and redeem miles than ever before. Through Star Alliance, the leading global alliance network, our customers will also continue to benefit from service to more than 1,000 destinations worldwide.
The Merger Provides Job Stability for Employees
The past decade has been a tumultuous time for our employees. They have faced ongoing uncertainty as the industry has been forced to shed tens of thousands of jobs. In fact, in January 2009, the full time equivalent employees for the U.S. airline industry numbered 390,700 – that figure is 151,000 – or more than 25 percent – less than the all time high airline employment figure of 542,300. Employees have been forced to weather the volatility of oil prices and the challenges of terrorist attacks, increased security, a massive recession and unforeseen events such as SARS, H1N1 and volcanic ash. Through all of this, they have continued to perform at their best, providing our customers with clean, safe and reliable air travel.
We’re proud of the work that our employees do every day. The merger will offer our employees improved long-term career opportunities and enhanced job stability by being part of a larger, financially stronger and more geographically diverse carrier that is better able to compete successfully in the global marketplace and withstand the volatility of our industry.
We will continue to serve all of the communities that we serve today and we expect that any necessary reductions in front line employees will come from retirements, normal attrition and voluntary programs. Our plan is to integrate our workforces in a fair and equitable way. Our focus will be on creating cooperative labor relations, including negotiating contracts with our collective bargaining units that are fair to the company and fair to our employees. United has two members of its collective bargaining units on its Board of Directors, and the seats allocated to the collective bargaining units will continue to be part of the Board of the combined company.
The merged company’s headquarters will be in Chicago. In Houston, we will continue to have a significant presence and will remain one of Houston’s largest private employers. Houston will be our largest hub and will continue be a premier gateway to Latin America for more travelers than ever before. Some corporate positions will remain in Houston and our CEO will have an office there as well as in Chicago. Over time, as our business grows as a result of the merger, we expect to see a net gain in jobs in Houston.
We expect to adopt the best aspects of each company’s culture and practices. People at both companies have come to know, admire and learn from their counterparts in many functions due to our joint venture and Star Alliance relationships, and we are confident that we can integrate our organizations fairly, effectively, and efficiently.
Service to Small Communities Will Be Enhanced
As network carriers, we have a long history of serving small- and medium-sized communities. United is proud to fly passengers from places like Portland, Maine to Honolulu or Charleston, South Carolina to Chicago, while Continental’s service to and from Houston has been instrumental to the growth of the 20 Texas communities served.
Air travel opens up the world and provides business and leisure opportunities to all Americans, no matter where they live. Airlines are often the lifeblood of small communities, not only because of the economic benefits they provide, but due to their civic and charitable contributions and the volunteer activities of their employees. Both of our companies are committed community partners with robust corporate contributions and responsibility programs and we strongly support our employees’ volunteer activities.
The turmoil in our industry has been devastating to many small- and medium-sized communities. Since 2000, more than 100 small communities have lost all network carrier service. Approximately 50 more have seen their service levels cut, losing at least half of their seats.
Low cost carriers have not filled this void because service to these communities is typically inconsistent with their business model. They are more-often dependent on point-to-point, high-density routes and often have one-size aircraft, which makes it difficult for them to serve these small communities. As a result, approximately 200 of these small communities and metropolitan areas, many of which have fewer than 500 passengers traveling to or from their airports daily, are served only by network carriers.
When we announced our merger, we committed to continuing to provide service to all of the communities our airlines currently serve, including 148 small communities and metropolitan areas (CHART ONE). This service enables residents of small communities to connect through our eight mainland domestic hubs and travel on to hundreds of destinations on thousands of routes worldwide. The combined airline will offer these travelers access to 350 destinations in 59 countries.