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United’s Retro Aircraft Spotted at IAH


May 3, 2011

© Houston Airport System
United Airlines is celebrating its 85th anniversary.
The newly merged United Airlines is no stranger to Houston, especially since George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) is the largest hub for the airline measured by daily departing seats.

Recently, United Airlines commemorated its 85th anniversary by unveiling an Airbus A-320 painted in the airline's 1970s-era "Friend Ship" livery. The unique plane that stands out among the rest has been spotted at IAH along with a flood of memories.

Then and Now

In 1926, fewer than 6,000 Americans paid to travel by plane. By 1930, about 170,000 paying passengers took to the sky each year. Boeing's tri-motored Model 80 carried up to 18 people in an enclosed cabin – a step up from only a few years earlier when two passengers rode on top of mailbags, wearing parachutes and goggles.

In 1936, people could fly coast to coast, allowing at least 20 hours for the trip, but generally bought tickets at the door of the plane just before takeoff.

The new United features the world's most comprehensive route network, offering customers access to destinations on six continents and nonstop or one-stop service from virtually anywhere in the United States. With the most modern and fuel-efficient fleet among America's network carriers, United takes to the sky with 5,675 daily departures from nearly 375 airports. Today, the new United operates 582 daily departing and 582 daily arriving flights at IAH.

United's First Flight

United's history began April 6, 1926, when a small Swallow biplane owned by Walter Varney completed the first airmail delivery, landing to cheering crowds in Nevada after a flight across a harsh, mountainous route. While other aviation legends saw air travel as a challenge and a sport to be conquered, Varney was among the first to recognize its business potential.

Varney then founded Varney Air Service in 1926 after acquiring an airmail contract. He later sold the company to United Aircraft and Transport, which would change its name to United Air Lines in 1933. In 1934, Varney and his business partner Louis Mueller founded Varney Speed Lines, which was sold and renamed Continental Airlines in 1937.

Both airlines would eventually become industry giants with service to hundreds of points in the U.S. and around the globe. In May 2010, United and Continental merged to become the world's leading airline. 
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