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United Air Lines, Inc., operating as United Airlines, is a major U.S. airline owned byUnited Continental Holdings (originally UAL Corporation), headquartered in Chicago,Illinois. It is the world's largest airline by number of destinations and scheduled passenger-kilometer flown. The airline was founded in 1926 as Varney Air Lines; it was renamed Boeing Air Transport in 1927 after it was acquired by aircraft manufacturerBoeing. United became an independent company in 1934, and merged with Capital Airlines in 1961. In 2011, it merged with Continental Airlines, replacing its own tulip logo with Continental's globe logo and its aircraft livery.
United is a founding member of the Star Alliance, the largest airline alliance in the world, and offers connections to over 1,000 destinations in over 170 countries worldwide. United's largest hub is George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston The airline's regional service is United Express. As of October 2012, United employs 88,253 people, and is headed by Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Smisek.
United operates 705 aircraft, consisting of narrowbody Airbus A320 family, Boeing 737 Next Generation, and Boeing 757 aircraft as well as widebody Boeing 747, Boeing 767,777, and 787 aircraft. It has single-aisle Boeing 737 Next Generation and 737 MAXaircraft, as well as the widebody Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, on order.
United Airlines originated from the Varney Air Lines air mail service of Walter Varney, who also founded Varney Speed Lines which later became Continental Airlines. Founded in Boise, Idaho in 1926, the carrier flew the first Contract Air Mail flight in the U.S. on April 6, 1926, marking the first scheduled airline service in the country's history. In 1927, airplane pioneer William Boeingfounded his own airline, Boeing Air Transport to operate the San Francisco to Chicago air mail route and began buying other airmail carriers including Varney Airlines. In 1929, Boeing merged his company with Pratt & Whitney to form the United Aircraft and Transport Corporation (UATC).
In 1933, United began operating the Boeing 247, the first all-metal airliner. It was able to fly a transcontinental flight in 20 hours, making it significantly faster than its predecessors. After passage of the Air Mail Act in 1934, UATC separated into United Aircraft (the future United Technologies), the Boeing Airplane Company and United Air Lines.
After the war, United gained from a boom in customer demand for air travel, with its revenue passenger-miles jumping five-fold in the 1950s, and continued growth occurring through the next two decades
The pre-merger United logo, a stylized "U" that is universally referred to as the "tulip", was first developed in the early seventies after the airline commissioned designer Saul Bass to develop a new brand image. It replaced the original United red, white and blue shield logo, adopted in 1936, but disused by the late 1960s. The "tulip" logo of colored stripes representing overlapping letter "U"s was used with only slight modification. This livery would be updated in 1988, to feature bigger "UNITED" titles on the fuselage that was facilitated by moving the stripes down. This livery was in use until the beginning of 1993 and the last planes to feature this paint scheme were repainted by 1999.
Other "tulip" liveries included 1993's CKS Group-designed "Battleship" livery, using a grey and dark blue fuselage, with blue stripes on the tail and a smaller "tulip". This livery debuted on January 11, 1993 and the last mainline plane to wear this livery, N229UA, was repainted on February 20, 2012. The 2004 Pentagram-developed "Blue Tulip" or "Rising Blue" featured a white and lighter blue fuselage, along with a cropped version of the tulip on the tail. This livery was used until the merger with Continental.
United Airlines has promoted its post-merger logo as reflecting its efforts to attract corporate clients and the airline's worldwide network, but many marketing experts and graphic designers have criticized the logo change, stating that the previous "tulip" logo has stronger brand recognition and is a stronger mark than the Continental globe, while faulting CEO Jeff Smisek and former United CEO Glenn Tilton for devising the "new" brand and livery between the two of them with no outside input.