United Airlines Celebrates 85th Anniversary With Retro “Friend Ship”

United Airlines Celebrates 85th Anniversary With Retro "Friend Ship"United Airlines commemorates its 85th anniversary today by unveiling an Airbus A-320 painted in the airline’s 1970s-era “Friend Ship” livery at an employee celebration at Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

“We are proud to celebrate United’s 85th anniversary with the more than 85,000 co-workers and thousands of retirees who have built the world’s leading airline,” said Jeff Smisek, United’s president and chief executive officer.

Employee celebrations continue throughout the week as the Friend Ship visits other United and Continental hub airports, including Denver International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, and Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport, the airline’s largest hub. Last fall, United employees selected the Friend Ship, which features stripes of deep red and sky blue and a regal star pattern, from United’s historical liveries.

High-resolution still images of the newly painted Friend Ship are available for download at UnitedContinentalHoldings.com > Media Center > Media Downloads > Photos > 85th Anniversary Friend Ship.

“The heart of my experience at United has been working with the people who make this airline great,” said Jack Lampe, a 51-year veteran of United and Capital Airlines, which merged with United in 1961. During his career, Lampe performed most airport operations functions, and is widely credited for leading the industry in anti-icing capabilities. “We can be proud of our accomplishments and the service we’ve delivered for the past 85 years.”

United’s First Flight

United’s history began April 6, 1926, when a small Swallow biplane owned by Walter Varney completed the first airmail delivery, landing to cheering crowds in Nevada after a flight across a harsh, mountainous route. While other aviation legends saw air travel as a challenge and a sport to be conquered, Varney was among the first to recognize its business potential.

Varney then founded Varney Air Service in 1926 after acquiring an airmail contract. He later sold the company to United Aircraft and Transport, which would change its name to United Air Lines in 1933. In 1934, Varney and his business partner Louis Mueller founded Varney Speed Lines, which was sold and renamed Continental Airlines in 1937.  Both airlines would eventually become industry giants with service to hundreds of points in the U.S. and around the globe.  In May 2010, United and Continental merged to become the world’s leading airline.

Then and Now

In 1926, fewer than 6,000 Americans paid to travel by plane. By 1930, about 170,000 paying passengers took to the sky each year. Boeing’s tri-motored Model 80 carried up to 18 people in an enclosed cabin – a step up from only a few years earlier when two passengers rode on top of mailbags, wearing parachutes and goggles. In 1936, people could fly coast to coast, allowing at least 20 hours for the trip, but generally bought tickets at the door of the plane just before takeoff.

By comparison, today, the new United flies more than 150 million customers each year, equal to about half the population of the U.S., and travelers can book flights from virtually anywhere. United’s largest aircraft, the 747-400, seats 374 travelers in modern comfort, offering flat-bed seats, personal inflight entertainment, hot meals and world-class service.

The new United features the world’s most comprehensive route network, offering customers access to destinations on six continents and nonstop or one-stop service from virtually anywhere in the United States. With the most modern and fuel-efficient fleet among America’s network carriers, United takes to the sky with 5,675 daily departures from nearly 375 airports.

About United Continental Holdings, Inc.

United Continental Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: UAL) is the holding company for both United Airlines and Continental Airlines. Together with United Express, Continental Express and Continental Connection, these airlines operate a total of approximately 5,675 flights a day to 372 airports on six continents from their hubs in Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Guam, Houston, Los Angeles, New York/Newark Liberty, San Francisco, Tokyo and Washington, D.C. United and Continental are members of Star Alliance, which offers 21,000 daily flights to 1,160 airports in 181 countries worldwide through its 27 member airlines. United and Continental’s more than 80,000 employees reside in every U.S. state and in many countries around the world. For more information about United Continental Holdings, Inc., go to unitedcontinentalholdings.com. For more information about the airlines, see united.com and continental.com, and follow each company on Twitter and Facebook.