United CEO Glenn Tilton and Continental CEO Jeff Smisek – the latter will run the new “world’s largest airline” which will go by the name “United” – told analysts and media this morning that this is “a merger of equals” and went on the paint a rosy scenario that will conclude with an okay from Dept. of Justice.
As for equality, the execs said, United is strong where Continental is weak, and Continental is strong where United is weak.
As for airfare prices, both men called the merger “profoundly pro-competitive” and said airfare increases were not built into their estimates of the benefits of synergies; Smisek added, “When I lie awake at night worrying about the competition, I don’t worry about United” because of the lack of route overlap.
The execs however also noted that the new United will be responsive to market demand as always, and will price their product “appropriately”. Smisek noted, “This is a brutally competitive industry” but told his audience that airlines don’t set airfares – the market place does.
Smisek admitted the merger will create some pain: although Houston (Continental’s headquarters) will be “the largest hub of the world’s largest airline” and there won’t be widespread layoffs, some people will lose their jobs in both Houston and Chicago (United’s headquarters) as they eliminate duplicative functions but they said they will try to manage the process at least partly through attrition and voluntary severance.
There was some banter with reporters about an earlier United suitor; yes, said UA’s Tilton, talks with US Airways were “very serious”, though at one point Continental’s Smisek joked that his carrier ultimately had an edge because, “I’m prettier.” A reporter later suggested, when a movie version of the merger is made, Smisek’s role could be played by Jennifer Aniston.