Continental was born in 1934 as Varney Speed Lines, founded by Walter. T Varney, and flew both airmail and passenger routes in the South West. Interestingly enough, the same Walter Varney also founded United Airlines (originally Varney Air Lines) in 1926. The company’s plane of choice was the Lockheed Vega, a six-passenger single-engine monoplane made famous by Amelia Earhart in which she became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic.
In 1937, Robert Six, Continental’s CEO from 1936 to 1981, changed the name from Varney Speed Lines to Continental Air Lines (Air Lines later changed to Airlines) as a way to show the company’s desire to have national flights in all areas and directions of the continental United States. Robert Six led Continental into successful mergers, adding more cities and routes in fulfillment of the company’s name.
Early in the 1960’s, Robert Six struck a deal with Boeing to begin flying the Boeing 707 Jet aircraft. It was one of the first companies to dispose of all its turboprop and piston-powered aircraft, and maintain a pure jet aircraft fleet. Continental was also one of the first to welcome the Boeing 747 jet aircraft into service in 1970, and later won awards for its refined upper-deck lounge and Polynesian Pub.
After fighting through government deregulation of the airline industry, fierce competitors, acquisition, and two bankruptcies, Continental experienced a period of immense growth between 1997 and 2006. The company expanded into Ireland, Scotland, Hong Kong, Switzerland, and Spain, among other international destinations. In 2006, Continental became the fourth-largest airline in the U.S. Later, in 2011, it introduced the world to the first eco-friendly bio-fueled flight.
Through a period of success and setback during the recent recession, Continental began merger discussions with United in 2008. In May, 2011, Continental and United announced the merger, reuniting the two siblings born from the same founder nearly a century earlier. The airlines kept the United name, and the United home base in Chicago, but the Continental CEO and logo were kept in place. By merging together, the two companies hope to save nearly $1 billion each year.
The merge with United became official in November, 2011, although some flights continued to be operated under the Continental name through 2012. The very last Continental flight, Flight 1267, took off from Phoenix and landed in Cleveland as United Flight 1267. The new United is now the second-largest airline in the world, sporting over 700 aircraft.