Let’s not fly together: A customer perspective on the Continental-United merger

What’s in it for you?

Ever since the proposed merger between Continental Airlines and United Airlines was announced earlier this week, that’s all people have been asking about. How does this corporate marriage benefit me?

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It would be easy to give you the answer everyone is expecting: It won’t.

But you deserve more than a smug one-liner.

Let’s look at what the airlines have to say. A hastily-posted merger website claims there’s plenty of benefit to customers.

• The combined airline says it will offer the world’s “most comprehensive network,” serving 144 million passengers per year and 370 destinations in 59 countries. But it fails to say how, exactly, bigger is better.

• The new United will be the world’s “leading” airline, according to the companies. It claims having more routes, a better frequent flier program and newer aircraft will make it a more desirable carrier. But these vague and tautological arguments don’t persuade me United will “lead” the airline industry anywhere.

• How about competitive fares? That’s code for cheap tickets, folks. By combining two airlines, Continental and United believe they will create a more competitive airline industry, which will lower fares. That’s just nonsense, of course. Show me one case in which a combined airline led to cheaper prices. Just one.

• A merged United is also said to offer “award-winning” customer service. Anne Munoz, Barbara Higgins — I love you both! But you’re already good. This isn’t a compelling argument for a merger.

• Finally, a consolidated United will have an “industry-leading” frequent flier program. Oh really? My personal feelings about loyalty programs aside, there’s absolutely no evidence that merging Mileage Plus and OnePass will benefit anyone. See today’s post on Delta-Northwest for more thoughts on that.

Continental and United have not made a single persuasive argument that their merger will benefit customers. Notaone. Instead, their list looks like an afterthought.

I’d like to believe that this isn’t entirely driven by the financials, and that the executives who proposed this deal weren’t thinking about themselves first. And if their reasons were better, I might at least give them the benefit of the doubt.

I can’t do that.