A Look Back at United’s Brand From the 2000s
United entered the 21st century a strong, global carrier with a solid reputation amongst business travelers. Then the unthinkable happened – 9/11. United, like every major US airline except Southwest, struggled through a brutally long bankruptcy, skyrocketing fuel prices, and global economic woes.
Yet despite the tumultuous era for United’s customers and employees, the first decade of the 21st Century was iconic for United’s brand. I won’t rehash the (very tired) Tulip versus Globe argument – that’s settled history, unfortunately.
But for the millions who flew United regularly in the 2000s, Ted, explus, p.s. – and yes, the beloved ‘Tulip’ – are long gone but never forgotten. United’s brand was, at least in my opinion, aspirational. Dare I even say sophisticated?
This 2007 animated commercial with Rhapsody in Blue might be United’s best
Business1, Ted, p.s., and United Express explus
Business1 was United’s brief experiment with a branded service targeting business travelers flying short-haul flights from Chicago O’Hare (ORD). The enhanced service was introduced in 2005 shortly after p.s. and Ted.
Routes included Chicago O’Hare (ORD) to – Boston (BOS), Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP), Newark (EWR), New York LaGuardia (LGA), Philadelphia (PHL), and Washington National (DCA).
Flights departed from Concourse B gates (closest to security) and had “guaranteed” on-time arrivals. If a flight didn’t arrive within 30 minutes of its scheduled arrival, passengers received 500 MileagePlus miles. Not exactly generous, but it’s the thought that counts, right?
Other amenities included free newspapers and meals or snacks in first class despite the short flight times.
United explus – The Regional Jet ‘Evolved’
United Express explus was a core component of United’s early glamification strategy of the regional jet experience. While first class on larger regional jets is standard across the industry today, United was an early pioneer of enhanced seating options on aircraft previously operating only short hops.
United Express-operated Embraer E170 and CRJ-700 aircraft featured six first class seats and Economy Plus seating (and still do, although explus branding has since been dropped). On flights longer than 2.5 hours, passengers in first class received a “meal” – quite literally, a snack box.
Check out this trip report from One Mile at a Time:
United p.s. – a True Premium Transcontinental Experience
United p.s. ushered in a new era for United, a truly premium service on the increasingly competitive New York JFK to San Francisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX) routes. United reconfigured Boeing 757-200 aircraft with 12 (angled) lie-flat seats in United First, 26 roomy recliners in United Business, and 72 enhanced legroom in United Economy Plus.
With routes to only a trio of cities, one might say that p.s. is a service with a selective air about it. It’s quite true. There is something about New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco that calls for a sophisticated touch. That means refining our service to better provide a better experience for bicoastal business travelers, whom we hold in the highest regards.
United dropped the p.s. branding but continues to offer enhanced service and flatbed seats on flights from Newark (EWR) to Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO) and Boston (BOS) to San Francisco (SFO).
Ted – United’s Short-Name, Short-Lived “Low-Fare” Concept
Ted – short for UnitTED – was United’s experiment with a low-fare airline-within-an-airline concept. At the time, United was looking to compete directly with Frontier out of Denver (DEN) by offering lower fares and a leisure-oriented service.
United removed the first class cabin from 56 Airbus A320 aircraft and reconfigured the plane to an all-economy 156-seat cabin.
In addition to angering frequent fliers, many questioned United’s decision to configure the planes with 156 seats. FAA regulations require one flight attendant per 50 passengers; the one extra row of six seats required a fourth flight attendant on Ted flights.
Ted flew to leisure destinations primarily in Florida and Mexico. In 2005, Ted added service from Chicago Midway (MDW) to Denver (DEN) and Washington Dulles (IAD).
Ted folded in 2008 and its A320 aircraft were reconfigured back to the standard two-class configuration with 12 first class seats. So long, Ted.
And now, a look at United’s “current” advertising campaign. By current, I mean several years old, but it’s one of three (old) ads available on United’s media site.
For a real throwback, Google ‘United Airlines Advertising’ and discover this cringe-worthy print advertisement from United’s advertising page.
But nothing beats these unbelievably creative billboards… WRONG WAY definitely screams premium.
George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue
Lastly, a ten-minute blissful escape from today’s crazy world. Enjoy!
– It’s Time to Fly