United updates flights numbers, screws up big time

UPDATE: The folks in Chicago woke up Wednesday morning to the mess that this caused and immediately issued apologies and stated their intentions to fix it. All’s well that ends well, I suppose.

The integration progress between Continental and United Airlines is pushing ahead with great speed and things are changing near everywhere you look. Today those changes included the announcement of mostly aligned standby policies which is no big deal. It also included an update to some flight numbers, including a couple codeshares.

Normally I don’t care about the flight numbers; what difference does it make to me if it is flight 8 or 88 or 888? But this change is different. This change is going to rile a lot of folks up. This change has UA 93 and UA 175 back in service for the first time in just under 10 years.



Sure, there are only a limited number of flight numbers available, but they really do not need all 10,000 of them. And it is a codeshare, not actually operated by United. But certainly these two could remain retired. Putting them back in service is a horrible move and shows a complete lack of sympathy and respect.

Bad form, United. Bad form.

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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.


  1. Boooooooooo. Not in good taste at all. I don’t see CO resurrecting 11…not that it’s an even comparison.

  2. Just weird. Did they have a 20-year old intern work on this? Or just a team of bozos?

  3. Yes, we should all change our lives because that’s what the terrorists want.

    1. This isn’t about the terrorists. It is about the fact that those flights were involved in fatal crashes and that it is bad form to disrespect those who died in this way. There is no need to reuse the numbers and keeping them retired is a nice way to show respect to those who died in those crashes. There have been other crashes involving fatalities and eventually the flight numbers have been cycled back into the system (http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/16405739-post40.html):

      UA173 was the DC-8-61 that ran out of fuel and crashed at PDX in 1978, killing 10 of the 189 aboard. UA173 today is a 757-200 BOS-SFO.
      UA585 was a 737-200 that crashed approaching MDW in 1972 killing 43 of the 61 aboard. UA585 today is an A320 ORD-MSP.
      UA227 was a 727-100 that crashed at SLC in 1965 killing 43 of the 91 aboard. UA227 today is a 752 operating OMA-DEN-LAX.
      UA389 was another 727-100 in 1965 that crashed into Lake Michigan approaching ORD, killing all 30 aboard. UA389 today operates TPA-ORD-BOI (757 TPA-ORD and A319 or A320 ORD-BOI).
      UA826 was the DC-8-10 that collided in mid-air with the TWA L1049 Super Constellation over NYC in December 1960 (the first fatal DC-8 accident), killing all 84 aboard the DC-8, all 44 on the L1049, and 6 on the ground where the DC-8 came down in a Brooklyn intersection. UA826 today is an A319 that operates SLC-DEN (once a week, Sunday only).

      I wouldn’t have put any of them back into use. There is simply no need.

      I’m all in favor of living in the now rather than focusing on the past. But where it is possible to live in the now while also show a smidgen of respect an honor the memory of those killed in a plane crash there is no earthly reason not to do both.

  4. Are there any Western airlines out there (apart from UA now) who reuse flight numbers from fatal crashes?

  5. As a Boston-based UAL flight attendant, I have to say this is truly upsetting. We are a small,tight-knit community and everybody who was there on 9/11 knew people on flight 175. This does not bode well for the “working together” culture that Continental and United are ostensibly trying to promote with the merger.

    1. I certainly understand your feelings, JR. The good news is that they’ve acknowledged the mistake and will be fixing it today according to their Customer Service group.

  6. I wonder if it an employee coming from the CO side who did this who simply wasn’t aware of the sensitivity of these flight numbers.

    Kind of like the boarding procedure changes – they feel like CO execs implement CO policies

    1. The boarding change thing (zones -> back to front) really is just a limitation of SHARES and I do not at all see where it is going to make a difference. I’ve read the oft-cited study and it doesn’t account for elites, pre-boarding or families all boarding at the lowest zone number. A soldier posting on FT said it best the other day, something to the effect of, “When we get on a bus we go back to front and everyone just sits down and we leave.” As soon as someone decides that they want to swap seats, that they cannot lift (or fit) their bag into the overhead, that they are elite so they board in the middle of the scrum or any other small hiccup the stats go to shit in a hurry. But it was a study done once and it “proves” one side of the discussion so it will keep getting air time. Such is life.

  7. Just announced. The red carpets at UA boarding areas are changing to CO blue.

    Sounds like the CO team setting the airport procedures.

    1. The entire branding color scheme is blue/gold. Why would you expect them to keep the red carpet??

  8. I really don’t get this. It isn’t a merger of equals, it is Continental with a better network and a new name. And I really don’t understand how in the world you can have Flights 93 and 175 entered into the system at the same time and say it was an error. There is some idiot who did it intentionally, and thankfully it got changed.

  9. The “blue carpet” is sleazy, half the airports I have been to have blue carpet, so it is not any type of differentiator to use blue carpet. Instead of the common “We now roll out the Red Carpet to 1K, Global Services, and United First customers,” we will get “We now roll out the blue carpet on the left to Premier Access customers.” Totally stupid, sure it keeps the colors in line with branding, but when you go to a UA checkin there is no red, so it isn’t like red is a big part of United’s branding either.

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