The West of the story


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There’s a lot to discuss about the upcoming United-Continental airline merger, and simultaneously not much to discuss . . . yet. The merger exists largely in intent at the moment, with many details to hash out as the two companies work toward completing the consolidation by the end of this year.

Among those details—pertinent to our loyalty-marketing audience—is the blended operation of the airlines’ frequent-flyer programs, United’s Mileage Plus and Continental’s OnePass. (For instance, will the name of the program be two words with a space or two words without a space?) At the moment, the airlines are wisely noting that, yes, there will be changes, and they’ll reveal those changes once the specifics are worked out. Meantime—as stressed in customer mailings, in press releases, and in website FAQs—it’s business as usual. Earn and redeem as you would normally until changes are finalized. Plus, United’s website notes that the merged programs will provide “more opportunities for more customers to earn and redeem more miles in more places worldwide with more partners, including our Star Alliance partners. The new frequent flyer program will combine valuable features of Mileage Plus and OnePass from United and Continental.” One immediate impact is that Red Carpet Club members and Presidents Club members now have access to both lounges.

One large detail that has been decided is the name of the combined carrier, which will fly under the United Airlines banner. This leads to a small point in the world of corporate mergers, as my communications eye sees this as another example of if not a trend then a pattern: merger absorption of the somewhat-generic geographical name. Delta absorbs Northwest. Frontier absorbs Midwest. (A wag might suggest that this “western” purge should perhaps have Southwest looking over its shoulder, but I won’t be that wag). And now, United absorbs Continental.

Perhaps this is coincidence—as many factors went into each decision: Brand loyalty, for one. As reporter Scott Laird reported when covering the Frontier-Midwest deal, “Brand identity was so strong at Frontier that supporters held rallies during summer 2009 to prevent the airline from merging with Southwest, which had plans to fold the brand into its own operation.” (That particular deal obviously didn’t go through, though naming rights—I must point out to all potential wags out there—played no factor.) In any change in name or slogan–resulting from introductions of new products or services, revamped policies or structures, or landmark corporate mergers–must be considered carefully. What does the name evoke? Though these factors likely didn’t go into the naming decisions in my example here, I cheer the results. Consider the exploratory connotation of frontier over the implied geographic limitations of Midwest (somewhat the same with delta versus Northwest). And consider the solidity communicated by two airlines combining strengths to become, yes, united.

Interestingly, part of the decision to keep the United name was geographical. Continental CEO Jeff Smisek told his employees, “United brings its strong West coast and Pacific presence, something we’ve always wanted and needed.”

Two side notes: United aircraft will carry the Continental logo and colors. And, as Scott Laird noted, to this former Wisconsinite’s delight: “The combined airline operating as Frontier will maintain some relics from the Midwest days [Midwest was based in Milwaukee]. . . . the first aircraft to be painted after the announcement will feature Wisconsin’s state animal, the badger, on the tail.”

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Bill Brohaugh
As managing editor, Bill Brohaugh is responsible for the day-to-day management and editorial for the COLLOQUY magazine and, the most comprehensive loyalty marketing web site in the world. In addition to writing many of the feature articles, Bill develops the editorial calendar, hires and manages outside writers and researchers and oversees print and online production. He also contributes to COLLOQUY's weekly email Market Alert and the COLLOQUYTalk series of white papers.


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