Celebrating Continental’s 75th Birthday

Happy Birthday, CO!

Celebrating a birthday is always cause for a party, and when it is a major milestone birthday – such as number 75 – the party is generally bigger than not. This held true for Continental Airlines as they have been partying up a storm over the past couple days to celebrate their 75th year of operations. The main focus of the party has been the delivery of their 75th birthday plane – a brand new Boeing 737-900ER – painted in the style of the 1947 birds Continental was flying. The plane was delivered from the Boeing factory on Thursday and promptly flew to Houston where it did a fly-by of the Continental headquarters downtown and then was the centerpiece of a party at the airport there. The plane then came up to Newark for a celebration with the employees here.

I should repeat here that the celebration was intended for the Continental employees here in Newark. But that didn’t stop me and a few friends from heading out to Newark to see the new plane and trying to crash the party. It turns out that we were quite successful in this effort. Showing up early and asking a guy in a suit if we could take some pictures was enough to get us “inside the ropes.” Of course, we did take some pictures at that point, but we also just happened to still be there when the event actually got started and at that point it would have been rude to walk out, so we just stuck around and enjoyed the event.

The new 737-900ER in the 1947 livery
Two Flight Attendants, in uniforms of the style of 1947 hanging out on stage during the event

The party was mostly a few speeches from various folks within the organization plus a woman from the Port Authority and a guy from the office of the Mayor of Newark who declared that there will now be a “Continental Airlines Day” in Newark each year. There was also cake. Mmmmm…cake. That part of the event was great for photo ops, and the one local employee they had speak was actually wonderfully excited and happy to be part of the Continental family so that was really quite nice to see. But for me the real fun was hanging out among the various employees, chatting with them and getting a feel for their impressions of the company.

And there were plenty of opportunities to chat it up, even as the interlopers without an employee badge. Sure, we got a lot of strange looks and questions from people, but it was well worth it. I spoke with both Larry Kellner, the CEO, and with Jeff Smisek, the President. They actually sortof remembered me from the various other events I’ve been to so that was quite an ego boost. Those conversations went about as I expected from the guys who run the company. A couple little bits of data were gleaned but no crazy insider knowledge there.

I also got to talk to a 757 First Officer who is currently on furlough and (rather reasonably) less than ecstatic about the situation. It was a very interesting conversation, particularly in light of the interaction I had with some folks from ALPA back in February after the last big Continental event down in Houston. The good news is that we were actually able to have a civil conversation in public and share our views on the airline in a civil way rather than the “discussions” that generally take place on the Internet. And that did include reliving some of my less classy moments, like swigging from the champagne bottle while in the exit row on the charter flight we took. But I think we do understand each other quite a bit better now.

Truly a classy look; I’m a big fan!

I had a very entertaining, albeit brief, chat with a random customer service agent. We saw one of the ramp guys run up to Kellner and grab a photo with him. I joked that having a photo with the boss is always a good thing and we got to talking about Kellner, Bethune (the previous CEO) and many of the other management folks from the past many years. It was clear that he enjoyed the job and that he had been there long enough to know the history and have a reasonable outlook for the future, though he did apparently like the previous boss better.

I spoke with a 777 captain who has been flying with Continental since the era of the Golden Tail – over 30 years of service. He was rather dumbfounded that we were there but appreciative of the business and the excitement that we had for travel in general and Continental specifically. He was also somewhat amazed that he represented 40% of the life of the company with his service; I am too!

There were several other conversations throughout the morning and all were enjoyable. Getting to see the company from the inside – particularly when most of the folks didn’t realize that I was an outsider – was quite refreshing and insightful.

There were a couple slightly juicy bits that came up in terms of the fleet and what is going on with the in-flight internet service options on Continental. They are still sitting back and watching to see how the industry will shake out on this. They see that there are lots of planes being deployed with the service but are waiting to see if there will be a critical mass of adoption before considering investing in something like Aircell’s gogo or the Row44 service. They are still planning on putting a trial of the LiveTV Kiteline service into play once it is available, hopefully with 30 planes in service for the tests by the end of Q1 2010. This pseudo-internet service offers access to email and a few other limited services but not a full experience. On the plus side, they do expect to offer it for free. Oh, and the new retro-jet is going to be headed to Orlando once the party wraps up in Cleveland so that it can have the LiveTV3 system installed. It should be entering commercial service sometime early next week.

One last shot of the plane as it headed out to the runway and Cleveland

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.