Throwback: The United ‘Tulip’ and Iconic Brand From the 2000s

by Sam Roecker

United Airlines Tulip Logo Saul Bass

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

United P.S. Ted Business1 and ExPlus


United Branding Tulip Logo Saul Bass

United Branding Thinkso x Pentagram | Photo: Thinkso Creative

United Airlines Tulip Brand United First and United Business

United’s Three-Cabin Branding | Image: Pentagram

United Airlines Business Class Menu Tulip

United Airlines Business Class Menu | Image: Pentagram


United Airlines Business1 Flights Chicago O'Hare ORDUnited Business1 – Shuttle-Like Service for Select ORD Flights 

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 Express

United ExPlus First Class ‘Meal’ | Photo: One Mile at a Time


United Airlines p.s. Premium Service Ad

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).

United Airlines p.s. service

United p.s. Website Circa 2004

United Airlines Ted A320 Livery

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 Airlines Ted Route Map

United’s Ted Route Map – 2004

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.

United Airlines Ted A320

Ted A320 Aircraft | Aviation Explorer


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.

United Airlines Advertising Friendly Skies

United –Friendly Ad Campaign | Image: United

For a real throwback, Google ‘United Airlines Advertising’ and discover this cringe-worthy print advertisement from United’s advertising page. 

Continental Airlines Advertisement

Directly from United’s Advertising Page! Yes, in 2018

But nothing beats these unbelievably creative billboards… WRONG WAY definitely screams premium.

United Out of EWR Campaign | Anthony Pagaza


George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue 

Lastly, a ten-minute blissful escape from today’s crazy world. Enjoy!


– It’s Time to Fly

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


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Ryan July 12, 2018 - 10:47 am

Continental had the best domestic first experience. No question about it. I remember getting a large fruit plate , cinnamon roll and cereal on my ELP-IAH flights. All EWR-Wet coast flights had printed menus, 3 course meals, excellent fresh breads (garlic too) I even had a lobster cocktail appetizer sometime in 2011. Business First catering was usually outstanding. FLL-EWR used to get great and fairly large hot sanwhcihes. I fondly remember mushroom soup and a Rueben was my fav Continental short Pre-Jeff Continental was a fantastic airline to fly. I was so happy Continental was going to be the true surviving carrier with the United name until I saw what their plans were.

Sam Roecker July 12, 2018 - 11:01 am

Hi Ryan, thanks for reading. Totally agree, Continental had a fantastic domestic first product – I remember that lobster app too! Yum. BusinessFirst on the HNL runs was also incredible.

I still think United had an overall stronger brand identity while Continental had a better premium product…unfortunately they didn’t exactly take the best of both carriers.

Matthew July 12, 2018 - 12:20 pm

What happy memories this post brings back! Thank you.

Sam Roecker July 12, 2018 - 12:23 pm

Thanks, Matthew! I was just reading your p.s. trip report from the early days… so refreshing to see United serving beverages on napkins that don’t say Coca-Cola 😉

Greg July 12, 2018 - 12:35 pm

Thanks for a great article. I had forgotten the animated commercial. Looking at it now, though, I can’t help but notice that the airport terminal at the beginning of the ad looks a *lot* like the TWA terminal @ JFK (like the oval flight display in front of the window) …

Sam Roecker July 12, 2018 - 12:43 pm

Thanks, Greg! You’re right, it does look like TWA – totally missed that.

Here’s another great one –

Kit April 11, 2020 - 1:31 pm

Continental was a two-bit, overrated regional airline and their advertising and Branding was Walmart level. Their employees are also arrogant snobs and delusional. It’s absolutely sickening what CO has done to United, who was a premium airline and had premium Branding. Jeff Smisek should be in jail. Not for just the chairman’s flight but for outright murder of United Airlines. Long live the Tulip.


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