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United Airlines

United Airlines

United Airlines, Inc. is a major American airline headquartered at the Willis Tower in Chicago, Illinois. United operates an extensive domestic and international route network across the United States and all six inhabited continents primarily out of its eight hubs, with Chicago–O'Hare having the largest number of daily flights and Denver carrying the most passengers in 2023. Regional service is operated by independent carriers under the brand name United Express.

United was formed by the amalgamation of several airlines in the late 1920s, the oldest of these being Varney Air Lines, created in 1926 by Walter Varney who later co-founded the predecessor to Continental Airlines. In 1997, United became one of the five founding airlines of Star Alliance, of which it remains a member today. Since its merger with Continental in 2010, United consistently ranks as one of the world's largest airlines; it is currently first by the number of destinations served and third in terms of revenue and fleet size.


United traces its roots to Varney Air Lines (VAL), which Walter Varney founded in 1926 in Boise, Idaho. Continental Airlines is the successor to Speed Lines, which Varney had founded by 1932 and whose name changed to Varney Speed Lines in 1934. VAL flew the first privately contracted air mail flight in the U.S. on April 6, 1926.

In 1927, William Boeing founded Boeing Air Transport to operate air mail routes under contract with the United States Post Office Department. In 1929, Boeing merged his company with Pratt & Whitney to form the United Aircraft and Transport Corporation (UATC) which then set about buying, in the space of just 28 months, Pacific Air Transport, Stout Air Services, VAL, and National Air Transport, as well as numerous equipment manufacturers at the same time. On March 28, 1931, UATC formed United Air Lines, Inc., as a holding company for its airline subsidiaries.

In 1973, United Airlines became the first civil airline to carry an active President of the United States, when then-president Richard Nixon was on board of a regularly scheduled flight from Washington D.C to Los Angeles. The aircraft used, a McDonnell Douglas DC-10, therefore received the callsign "Executive One".

In December 2002, due largely to the post-9/11 dropoff in air travel, as well as to poor relations between the corporation and one of its key labor unions, the International Association of Machinists, United Airlines filed for bankruptcy. It remained under court protection for more than three years. This enabled it to cut costs ruthlessly. Finally, in early 2006, it emerged from court protection and resumed normal operations.

In late 2006, Continental Airlines and United began merger discussions, which concluded successfully in 2010. The carriers planned to begin merging their operations in 2011. The merged airline began operating under a single air operator's certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration on November 30, 2011. On March 3, 2012, United and Continental merged their passenger service systems, frequent-flier programs, and websites, which virtually eliminated the Continental brand with the exception of its logo. On June 27, 2019, the parent company's name changed from United Continental Holdings to United Airlines Holdings.

In January 2021, Chief Executive Scott Kirby put forward the possibility for the company to mandate employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine while cautioning the potential difficulties in implementing the mandate. The company was the first major US airline to announce a vaccine mandate for all staff on August 6, at which point over 80% of flight attendants and 90% of pilots had been vaccinated, according to statements of the respective unions. Days before the internal deadline of September 27, the company announced that more than 97% of the US based staff were vaccinated.

In early 2024, the Federal Aviation Administration announced in March 2024 that it would increase safety oversight of United Airlines following a string of safety-related incidents. As a result, the airline was forced to postpone the launch of two announced international routes to Faro, Portugal and Cebu, Philippines.

Destinations and hubs

As of January 2024 United operates flights to 238 domestic destinations and 118 international destinations in 48 countries or regions across all six inhabited continents.


As part of its hub-and-spoke business model, United currently operates eight hubs.

  • Chicago–O'Hare – United's hub for the Midwest and largest hub overall. United controls 47% of the market share in O'Hare, making it the largest carrier at the airport. United's corporate headquarters are also in Chicago.
  • Denver – United's hub for the Rocky Mountain region of the United States. United has about 42% of the market share in Denver, making it the largest carrier at the airport. It became United's largest hub by number of flights in 2021.
  • Guam – United's hub for flight routes in the Pacific region, including the Island Hopper. United has about 98.8% of the market share at Guam International, making it the largest carrier at the airport. Despite its status as a hub, the airport has no direct flights to any other United hubs or the Mainland United States. Former Continental Airlines hub.
  • Houston–Intercontinental – United's hub for the Southern United States and primary gateway to Latin America. United currently has about 78% of the seat share at IAH, making it the largest carrier at the airport. Former Continental Airlines hub.
  • Los Angeles – United's secondary hub for the West Coast and gateway to Asia and Australia. United has 15% of the market share at LAX, making it the third-largest carrier at the airport.
  • Newark – United's primary hub for the East Coast and gateway to Europe, while including other select flights to Latin America, Africa, and Asia. United has 68% of the market share at Newark, making it the largest carrier at the airport. Former Continental Airlines hub.
  • San Francisco – United's primary hub for the West Coast and gateway to Asia and Australasia. United has about 46% of the market share at SFO, making it the largest carrier at the airport.
  • Washington–Dulles – United's secondary hub for the East Coast and gateway to Europe and Africa. United has about 65% of the market share at Washington Dulles, making it the largest carrier at the airport.

Alliance and codeshare agreements

United Airlines is a member of the Star Alliance and has codeshare agreements with the following airlines:



Polaris Business

Polaris is United's international business class product. The Polaris seat converts into a 6-foot-6-inch (1.98 m) flatbed and has multiple storage areas, multiple charging ports, lumbar support, and improved dining and amenities.

Polaris seats can be found on all Boeing 757-200s, Boeing 767s, Boeing 777-300ERs, and Boeing 787 Dreamliners, and internationally configured Boeing 777-200ERs. On the 757s, Polaris is configured in a 2-2 seat configuration, so window passengers do not have direct aisle access. On widebody aircraft, the cabins are configured to provide aisle access to every passenger, with 767s featuring a 1-1-1 seat configuration while 777s and 787s have a 1-2-1 seat configuration.

Polaris passengers check in at separate counters and can use priority security screening lanes where available. In-flight services include pre-departure beverages, table linens and multi-course meals. Passengers are also given priority with boarding and baggage handling and access to the United Polaris Lounge, United Club or partner airline lounges.


United First is offered on all domestically configured aircraft. When such aircraft are used on international services such as services to Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean (excluding Puerto Rico) destinations, this cabin is branded as United Business. United First seats on narrowbody aircraft have a 38-inch (97 cm) seat pitch, while domestically configured Boeing 777-200s feature fully-flat-bed seats that alternate facing forward and backwards, similar to the Polaris seats of the Boeing 757-200s. Passengers receive priority boarding and baggage handling, pre-departure beverages, complimentary meals and separate check-in desks.

In 2015, United released its new domestic first-class seat design. The new leather seats feature cradling headrests, granite cocktail tables, and a tablet stand. These seats debuted on Airbus A319 and Airbus A320 aircraft and were eventually rolled out on all domestic aircraft.

In 2019, it was announced that United was increasing first and business class seats "by 1,600" across all their aircraft in their fleet, including the Bombardier CRJ550 for which United is the launch customer of.

Premium Plus

Premium Plus is United's international premium economy product. Compared to United Economy or Economy Plus, Premium Plus offers more comfort and amenities. Premium Plus recliner seats are wider, have more legroom, and are equipped with leg rests and footrests.

Premium Plus seats can be found on all internationally configured widebody aircraft, with a 2-2-2 seat configuration on Boeing 767s, 2-3-2 on 787s, and 2-4-2 on 777s.

Upgraded dining is served on china dinnerware with free alcoholic beverages. Passengers are provided with Saks Fifth Avenue blanket and pillow, along with an amenity kit. The first aircraft with these seats were flying in mid-2018, and the full service launched in 2019. During the interim period, these seats were sold as part of Economy Plus.


Economy Class is available on all aircraft and usually has a pitch of 31 inches (79 cm) and a recline of 2 to 5 inches (5.1 to 12.7 cm).

Economy seats on Boeing 767, Boeing 787, and Boeing 757-200, and most Boeing 777 aircraft feature a personal 7-inch (18 cm) touchscreen television at the back of each seat. Airbus A319, A320, Boeing 737, Boeing 757-300, and domestically configured Boeing 777-200 aircraft feature personal device entertainment streamed from the onboard WiFi system. Some Boeing 737 aircraft feature DirecTV. United plans to add a personal touchscreen television at the back of each seat on all Airbus A320 family and Boeing 737 aircraft by the end of 2025.

Food is available for purchase on domestic, Caribbean, and some Latin American flights. These include snacks, fresh meals, and snack boxes, depending on flight time and distance. Meals are complimentary on all other international flights. Beverages and small snacks are complimentary in economy class on North America flights. Alcoholic beverages are available for purchase on North America flights but are complimentary on long-haul international flights. On flights where meals are served, a cocktail snack with a beverage is served shortly after takeoff, followed by a main course and dessert. Longer international flights feature a pre-arrival meal, which usually consists of a light breakfast or sandwich.

Economy Plus

Economy Plus is available on all aircraft. Economy Plus seats are located in the front few rows and exit rows of the economy cabin and have 2 inches (5.1 cm) more recline and at least 5 to 6 inches (13 to 15 cm) of additional pitch, totaling 4 to 7 inches (10 to 18 cm) of recline and 35 to 37 inches (89 to 94 cm) of pitch.

Economy Plus is complimentary for all MileagePlus Premier members. Premier 1K, Platinum and Gold members may select an Economy Plus seat when booking, while Silver members can select an Economy Plus seat at check-in.

Basic Economy

Basic Economy is available on select routes. Intended to be United's lowest fare, Basic Economy fares provide most of the same inflight services and amenities as standard Economy. With Basic Economy, passengers do not get to select their seats. They are often placed in the rear of the aircraft. Carry-on luggage is not allowed; however, passengers may bring a smaller personal item that can be placed under the seat in front of them.

Passengers booking in Basic Economy cannot use some MileagePlus and Premier member benefits, such as complimentary upgrades.

Reward programs

Frequent flyer programs

MileagePlus is the frequent flyer program for United Airlines. Published MileagePlus Premier tiers are Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, and Premier 1K. Unpublished tiers include United Global Services and Chairman's Circle.

As United is a Star Alliance member, customers reaching certain qualifications are entitled to certain benefits which may be used across the entirety of the Star Alliance network. Premier Silver customers are given Star Alliance Silver status, while Premier Gold customers and higher are given Star Alliance Gold status.

Airport lounges

United Club is the airline lounge associated with United Airlines and United Express carriers. The United Club replaced the former United Red Carpet Club and Continental Airlines Presidents Club prior to United Airlines' merger with Continental.

United Polaris lounges are exclusive lounges only available for long-haul Polaris business class travelers, as well as long-haul first and business class travelers on Star Alliance carriers. Amenities include à la carte dining, shower facilities, and sleeping pods.

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Corporate affairs

Business trends

The key trends for United airlines over recent years are (as of the financial year ending 31 December):

Ownership and structure

United Airlines, Inc., is publicly traded through its parent company, United Airlines Holdings, Inc., which is a Delaware corporation, on the New York Stock Exchange NYSE: UAL, with a market capitalization of over US$21 billion as of January 2018. United's operating revenues and operating expenses comprise nearly 100% of the holding company's revenues and operating expenses.

Headquarters and other facilities

United Airlines headquarters are located at the Willis Tower, 233 South Wacker Drive, Chicago, Illinois.

In 2007, United had moved its headquarters from Elk Grove Township, a suburb of Chicago, to 77 West Wacker Drive in the Chicago Loop after receiving US$5.5 million in incentives from the City of Chicago.

Then in 2010, United accepted the City of Chicago's offer of US$35 million in incentives, including a US$10 million grant, for United to move its remaining 2,500 employees out of Elk Grove Township to the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in the Chicago Loop. On May 31, 2012, United opened its operations center, which occupied twelve floors there. In 2019 United renewed its lease at Willis Tower, originally ending in 2028 and now set to expire in 2033, and plans to construct a roof deck and a 30,000 sq ft (2,800 m2) dining hall on the fourth floor.

The former headquarters campus at Elk Grove Township was gradually annexed into the Village of Mount Prospect, and serves as an IT operations facility, with a new 172,000 sq ft (16,000 m2) data center constructed in 2013.

United maintains a large presence in downtown Houston, having leased 225,000 sq ft (20,900 m2) of space (seven floors) for occupancy in 2017.

United has training facilities for its flight crews in Denver and Houston, a major aircraft maintenance center in San Francisco, and call centers in Houston and Chicago.

On September 24, 2020, United Airlines announced that it will roll out a new COVID-19 testing program for passengers from October 15 that year. Initially, testing was only available for passengers traveling to Hawaii from San Francisco International Airport.

Corporate identity

Brand image

The pre-merger United logo, commonly nicknamed the "tulip", was developed in the early 1970s by the designer Saul Bass as part of a new brand image. The logo represented the airline's monogram as well as a modernized version of the airline's shield logo which had been adopted in the 1930s, but fell out of use by the late 1960s. The ribbon-like rendering has also been said to symbolize the motion of flight. In 2010, United announced they would be merging with Continental Airlines and as a result, the combined airline would take the United name but use the Continental Airlines "globe" identity and livery, designed in 1991 by the Lippincott company.

Marketing themes

United's earliest slogan, "The Main Line Airway", emphasized its signature New York-Chicago-San Francisco route, and was replaced in 1965 with "Fly the Friendly Skies", which was in use until 1996 in its first iteration. The "It's time to fly" slogan was created in 2004. After the merger of United and Continental in October 2010, the slogan changed to "Let's fly together" until September 2013, when United announced a return of the "Fly the Friendly Skies" slogan in an ad campaign to start the following day. The resurrected slogan would be accompanied by the 1924 George Gershwin song "Rhapsody in Blue" as its theme song, and a voiceover provided by Matt Damon.

United had licensed its theme song, "Rhapsody in Blue", from Gershwin's estate for US$500,000 (equivalent to $2,677,193 in 2023) in 1976. "Rhapsody" would have entered the public domain in 2000, but the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 extended its copyright another 20 years until January 1, 2020, when it officially entered on the Public Domain. United announced that it would continue to use "Rhapsody in Blue" as its theme song following the merger with Continental.

Environmental initiatives

Because over 98 percent of United's greenhouse gas emissions are from jet fuel, its environmental strategy has focused on operational fuel efficiency initiatives and investments in sustainably produced, low-carbon alternative fuels.

On August 23, 2011, United Continental Holdings, Inc., announced a conversion to paperless flight decks and projected that by the end of the year, 11,000 iPads will have been deployed to all United and Continental pilots. Each iPad, which weighs less than 1.5 pounds (0.68 kg), will replace approximately 38 pounds (17 kg) of paper operating manuals, navigation charts, reference handbooks, flight checklists, logbooks, and weather information. The green benefits include reductions in paper use, printing, and fuel consumption.

On November 7, 2011, United flew the world's first commercial aviation flight on a microbially-derived biofuel. The aircraft was fueled with 40 percent Solajet, which is Solazyme's algae-derived renewable jet fuel, and 60 percent petroleum-derived jet fuel. This flight was operated by the Eco-Skies Boeing 737-800 aircraft from Houston to Chicago-O'Hare.

On January 15, 2013, Aviation Partners Boeing (APB), a joint venture between Aviation Partners Inc. and Boeing, announced that United had agreed to replace the Blended Winglets on its Boeing Next Generation 737 aircraft with APB's Split Scimitar Winglet (SSW), significantly reducing drag. Once the SSWs are installed, it is estimated that APB's winglet technology will save United more than $250 million annually in fuel costs.

On June 30, 2015, United invested US$30 million in Fulcrum BioEnergy, an alternative fuel company. Fulcrum's alternative fuel is produced through a clean and efficient thermochemical process and reduces lifecycle carbon emissions by more than 80 percent. As part of its investment, United will work with Fulcrum to develop up to five alternative fuel refineries near its U.S. hubs. These refineries will produce up to 180 million U.S. gallons (680 million liters) of sustainable aviation alternative fuel per year, and United will have the opportunity to purchase at least 90 million U.S. gallons (340 million liters) per year for a minimum of 10 years, making it the largest aviation alternative fuel commitment to date.

On March 11, 2016, United became the first airline in the world to fly on commercial-scale quantities of such fuels on a continuous basis, which were procured from AltAir Fuels. This fuel was produced from sustainable feedstocks such as non-edible natural oils and agricultural wastes and is expected to provide a greater than 60 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions on a lifecycle basis when compared to traditional jet fuel. United has agreed to purchase up to 15 million U.S. gallons (57 million liters) of sustainable alternative fuel from AltAir Fuels for use in Los Angeles over a three-year period.

In 2016, United began partnering with Clean the World to repurpose items from the airline's international premium class amenity kits and donate the hygiene products to those in critical need. Clean the World provides hygiene education and soap to promote handwashing, which helps prevent hygiene-related deaths. During the first year of this partnership, United expected to divert 60,000 pounds (27,200 kg) of material that otherwise would have gone to landfills.

In 2017 United started a partnership with Audubon International to protect raptors—including hawks, ospreys and owls—in and around New York-area airports and resettle the birds-of-prey at suitable golf course habitats where the species are more likely to thrive.

Worker relations

All United Airlines pilots are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association. A new Joint Collective Bargaining Agreement was ratified by a majority of the United/Continental pilots on December 15, 2012, which struck down a scope clause that disallowed Continental from outsourcing the flying of regional jets with 70 or more passenger seats.

In January 2021, as a plan to reduce its costs in 2023, United Airlines offered its employees voluntary leave options with pay or health benefits.

In April 2021, United Airlines announced that within the next decade, half its pilot cadets in the United Aviate Academy would be female or people of color.

Accidents and incidents

Source: United Airlines Accidents and Incidents History at Aviation Safety Network.

Controversies and passenger incidents

Animal transport

In 2013, after pressure from PETA, United announced that it would no longer transport monkeys to laboratories. United was the last North American passenger airline to transport these animals to laboratories. United flies more animals and has longer flight stage length than any other US airline, and accounted for one third of animal deaths of US airlines between 2012 and 2017.

Effective March 20, 2018, the PetSafe program was suspended with no new reservations for cargo transport of pets accepted. This came after United announced plans to mark pet carriers in the passenger cabin with bright tags and legislation was introduced in the United States House of Representatives and United States Senate banning the placement of pets in overhead compartments. This was in response to a dog death after a passenger placed it in the overhead compartment following flight attendant instructions, but the flight attendant denied knowing that the luggage contained a dog.

Cyber security issues

United awarded airline miles as "bug bounties" to hackers who could identify gaps in the carrier's web security. Two hackers have each been rewarded with 1 million miles of air travel as of July 15, 2015. This cybersecurity program was announced a few weeks after the company experienced two software glitches. The first incident delayed 150 United flights on June 2 due to a problem with its flight dispatching system. Six days later, United's reservation system delayed flights by not allowing passengers to check-in. In addition to the "bug bounty" program, United said it tests systems internally and engages cybersecurity firms.

In July 2019, security researcher Sam Jadali exposed a catastrophic data leak known as DataSpii, involving clickstream data provider DDMR and marketing intelligence company Nacho Analytics (NA). NA granted its members access to real-time data, including the ability to observe United Airlines passengers checking into their flights through the United website. The Washington Post highlighted how DataSpii resulted in the dissemination United passenger information including last names and flight confirmation numbers. The disseminated data also enabled the viewing of United customers' current geographic locations as they checked into their flights via the United website. DataSpii harvested data from millions of Chrome and Firefox users through compromised browser extensions, exploiting United's method of embedding personally identifiable information (PII) directly within the URLs. Jadali's investigation revealed that DDMR facilitated rapid dissemination of this data to additional third parties, often within minutes of acquisition, endangering the privacy of the sensitive data collected.

Privacy concerns

In February 2019, privacy concerns arose after it emerged that United had installed cameras in some seat backs. United said that the cameras were "not activated", but journalists reported that malicious hackers could still potentially enable the cameras to spy on passengers.

Mail-scan fraud

In February 2021, United Airlines was fined $49 million by the United States Department of Justice on charges of fraud on postal service contracts for transportation of international mail. According to investigators, between 2012 and 2015 United submitted delivery scan data to make it appear that United and its partner airlines complied with International Commercial Air requirements with accurate delivery times when in fact they were automated delivery scans with aspirational delivery time. Some employees within United worked to hide this fact from the United States Postal Service.

Flight 976

United Airlines Flight 976 was a regularly scheduled flight from Ministro Pistarini International Airport, Buenos Aires to John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City on October 19, 1995. Prior to takeoff, an investment banker became disruptive after consuming two glasses of champagne, began threatening crew members and attempted to pour his own drinks, against airline and federal regulations. After takeoff, the banker was served two more glasses of red wine, after which the crew refused to serve him more alcohol due to his apparent intoxication. When his requests for more alcohol were denied, he pushed over a female flight attendant, climbed onto a service trolley, took off his pants and defecated, used linen napkins as toilet paper, wiped his hands on various service counters and tracked feces throughout the aircraft, after which he entered a lavatory and locked himself in. A request to divert to Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was denied due to the security risks created by the presence of the President of Portugal Mário Soares, Argentinian foreign minister Guido di Tella and their security details on the flight. The disruptive passenger was arrested by the FBI after landing in New York and charged with interfering with a flight crew and threatening a flight attendant. He later pleaded guilty to the latter charge and was fined $5,000 (having previously agreed to reimburse the airline for its cleanup costs and all the other passengers their airfare, which amounted to nearly $50,000) and given two years' probation. The incident was later dubbed the worst ever case of air rage.

2017 passenger removal

On the evening of April 9, 2017, a passenger was forcibly removed by law enforcement from United Airlines flight 3411 at Chicago-O'Hare, bound for Louisville. United announced that it needed four seats for airline staff on the sold-out flight. When no passengers volunteered after being offered vouchers worth $800, United staff selected four passengers to leave. Three of them did so, but the fourth, a doctor named David Dao, declined as he said that he had patients to treat the following morning. He was pulled from his seat by Chicago Department of Aviation security officers and dragged by his arms down the aisle. Dao sustained a concussion, broken teeth and a broken nose among other injuries. The incident was captured on smartphone cameras and posted on social media, triggering angry public backlash. Afterwards, United's then-chief executive officer, Oscar Munoz, described Dao as "disruptive and belligerent", apologized for "re-accommodating" the paying customers, and defended and praised staff for "following established procedures". He was widely criticized as "tone-deaf". Munoz later issued a second statement calling what happened a "truly horrific event" and accepting "full responsibility" for it. After a lawsuit, Dao reached an undisclosed settlement with United and airport police. In the aftermath, United's board of directors decided that Munoz would not become its chairman and that executive compensation would be tied to customer satisfaction. Following this incident, passenger complaints increased by 70 percent.

Summer 2023 operational crisis

Beginning on Saturday, June 24, 2023, severe weather along the Eastern Seaboard triggered an operational crisis for United Airlines similar to the 2022 Southwest Airlines scheduling crisis whereby at least 150,000 passengers were affected by delays, cancellations, and diversions. United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby initially blamed FAA understaffing as the root cause of hundreds of cancellations, however United States Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg pushed back on these claims citing industry funded research.

See also

  • Hemispheres
  • Air transport in the United States
  • Transportation in the United States



  • Bennett, Drake (February 2, 2012). "Making the World's Largest Airline Fly". Bloomberg Businessweek. New York: Bloomberg. Archived from the original on February 3, 2012.
  • Davies, Ed (January–February 2007). "Boeing's Airline: The Life and Times of Boeing Air Transport: Part One". Air Enthusiast. No. 127. pp. 64–74. ISSN 0143-5450.
  • Davies, Ed (March–April 2007). "Boeing's Airline: The Life and Times of Boeing Air Transport: Part Two". Air Enthusiast. No. 128. pp. 62–73. ISSN 0143-5450.
  • Petzinger, Thomas Jr. (1995). Hard Landing. New York: Three River Press. ISBN 978-0-8129-2835-8.
  • Taylor, H. A. "Tony" (April–July 1982). "Stratocruiser... Ending an Airline Era". Air Enthusiast. No. 18. pp. 37–53. ISSN 0143-5450.

External links

  • Official website
  • Hemispheres inflight magazine
  • "United Airlines Cancellation Policy". February 24, 2020. Retrieved October 31, 2023.
  • Official website archive
  • BBB Profile
  • Business data for United Airlines Holdings, Inc.:

Text submitted to CC-BY-SA license. Source: United Airlines by Wikipedia (Historical)