Bloomberg Businessweek’s cover article this week is on the United/Continental merger, something many people have been following for over a year since it was first announced. Depending on how you view it, the merger is almost complete. The new United has acquired a single operating certificate from the FAA, most of the planes have been re-painted with the new brand (a mix of Continental’s colors with United’s name), airports are being renovated, and the new MileagePlus will be launched later this year on March 3. The issue of merging the unions has stuck around longer than United’s execs predicted, though in my opinion there hasn’t been too much in the way of labor unrest.
The cover image, with the title “Let’s get it on,” has gotten a lot of attention. You can just imagine the gymnastic ability required to make that work at 30K feet. 😉
Apparently the original cover design was somewhat more to the point, but it does look like the planes are about to crash. If I were United’s PR department, I would have called BBW to ask for something different, closer to sky background that was finally published. (BBW certainly does seem to favor edgy, annoying graphics everywhere in its issues. It’s like the product of a perverted merger between The Economist and Teen People.)
My take from the article is that it was mostly accurate but shares nothing truly new to those of us who have already been following the frequent updates from United and its employees. There is a s**t load of stuff to integrate when two large international businesses in a heavily regulated industry merge. Fortunately it’s all gone a lot better than some other mergers in the history of aviation. While some people aren’t happy with all of the decisions, I’ve been reasonably satisfied, and my complaints have mostly been due to issues that I realize will take time to iron out. Hopefully I won’t be complaining for much longer.
The one piece of new information, probably only because it got special focus in the article, was the coffee situation. Lots of people have been complaining about the new coffee on United being watery and flavorless. I’ve even seen UA flight attendants complain about it and mention to each other that they always double the amount of coffee in the pot to try to compensate. The first page explains why:
The beverage committee launched an inquiry. The coffee itself, they discovered, was only part of the problem. Airplane coffee is made from small, premeasured “pillow packs” that sit in a brew basket drawer at the top of the galley coffee machine. When the drawer is closed, boiling water flows through the pillow into the pot below. The old United brew baskets, the committee discovered, sit a quarter of an inch lower than Continental’s, leaving a space for water to leak around the pillow pack. That fugitive water was diluting the coffee—in fact, the old United had installed the deeper brew baskets for that very purpose, after passengers complained that their Starbucks was too strong. And so, by the end of the year, the beverage committee found itself back where it had started, trying out new pillow packs.
That’s been fixed, apparently. A new, slightly darker roast from the same manufacturer was chosen and measured out in larger packages to help compensate for the design differences. Coming from Seattle, I won’t mind if that means the coffee on Continental jets is stronger. Just as long as it tastes decent.
And, yes, that is a SkyTeam logo on the Continental plane. Clearly some of them needed repainting as badly as United’s!