Good numbers on the United-Continental partnership

Certainly a single data point is not a sufficient sample to extrapolate meaningful data from. But combined with the comments from the CEOs of both Continental and United Airlines, the number I heard on my flight yesterday from Denver to Houston was quite surprising and a strong vote of confidence in the new partnership between the two carriers.

Of the 130 passengers on the United flight more than half were connecting on to Continental flights in Houston to international destinations, mostly to Mexico and Central America, but also to Paris and Frankfurt. That’s a tremendous feed between the two networks. Really too bad that the flight was delayed and most of them likely misconnected, in large part due to the pain of connecting between the two carriers at that airport.

Continental operates a bus service to get folks between the terminals without having to re-clear TSA screening, and that is a great benefit to the passengers, but the bus transfer time was 20+ minutes yesterday, and that was skipping a stop in an effort to help a guy trying to get to Paris and onward to Beirut make his virtually impossible connection. Oh, and the 20 minutes only accounts for getting between terminals A and B. Onward connections to terminals C, D and E, where most of Continental’s flights operate from, require switching to the TerminaLink train, adding more time to the transfer process. Construction is in progress on extending the train all the way to terminal A which will remove the bus part of the transfer, but it is still not a great connection to have to make. The extension is supposed to be completed later in 2010, though there are some rumors that extended testing will further delay its use by passengers.

The best solution to the problem is to simply move the United gates into terminal C where they’ll be amongst the Continental gates, similar to the recent move by Continental in Denver to be amongst the United gates. With the number of passengers moving between the two carriers, such alignments are too smart to be skipped. Of course, it hasn’t happened yet in Houston (several other cities have seen such moves) and there isn’t a publicly announced timeline for such a move, though June has been bandied about as a possibility. United only needs two or three gates and Continental seems to have the excess capacity so hopefully this change will be completed sooner than not. Plus it will mean access to Continental’s Presidents Club lounges for passengers on United flights.

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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.