Article Index

 

1960s

Continental Airlines had seen a broad expansion of its routes, thanks to a responsive CAB and persistent efforts by Robert F. Six, who frequently referred to his company as "the Airline that needs to grow." In 1958 Continental introduced turboprop service with the Vickers Viscount on the new medium haul routes. The CAB permitted Continental to drop service at many of the smaller cities on the system, enabling the carrier's new aircraft to operate more economically on longer flights. In 1960 Continental had more than triple the passenger-miles it had had in 1956. (Aviation Week June 22, 1959: "Continental's current re-equipment program — involving a total cost of $64 million for the Boeings, Viscounts and DC-7Bs — was launched in 1955 when the carrier's net worth amounted to $5.5 million.")

During the late 1950s and early 1960s Six was the airline industry's leading lower-fare advocate. He predicted that increased traffic, not higher fares, was the answer to the airline industry's problems. To amazement from the industry he introduced the economy fare on the Chicago-Los Angeles route in 1962. He later pioneered a number of other low or discount fares which brought air travel to many who could not have afforded it. One of Continental's early innovations was a system-wide economy excursion fare which cut the standard coach fares by more than 25%.[5][page needed] Continental was one of the earliest operators of the Boeing 707, taking delivery of its first of five 707-124s in spring 1959 and starting Chicago-Los Angeles nonstop on June 8. Having so few jets, Continental needed radical innovations to the 707 maintenance program. It developed the "progressive maintenance" program, which enabled Continental to fly its 707 fleet seven days a week, 16 hours a day, achieving greater aircraft utilization than any other jet aircraft operator in the airline industry.[5][page needed] (In 1962 Continental's 707s averaged 11 hr 16 min a day; in 1963, 10 hr 26 min.) Six, not being satisfied with 707 service, introduced innovations and luxe cuisine on Continental's 707 flights which were described as, "... nothing short of luxurious" by the Los Angeles Times, and, "... clearly, the finest in the airline industry" by the Chicago Tribune.

In the early 1960s Continental added flights from Los Angeles to Houston, both nonstop and 1- and 2-stop flights via Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Midland-Odessa, Austin, and San Antonio. Continental connected Denver to Seattle, Portland, New Orleans, and Houston (to Houston: both nonstop, and with 1- and 2-stop services via Wichita/Tulsa/Oklahoma City). In 1963, company headquarters moved from Denver to Los Angeles.[5][6][page needed] Total passenger-miles in 1967 were more than five times greater than in 1960, but 61% of the 1967 total was on unscheduled flights (mostly transpacific charters). During the late 1960s the company disposed of the last of its turboprop and piston-powered aircraft—one of the first U.S. airlines to do so.[6] Continental replaced the Viscount fleet with DC-9s from Douglas Aircraft and added Boeing 727s. The DC-9 and 727 were to become the workhorses of the Continental fleet from the late 1960s.[6] The DC-9s were phased out by the late 1970s (although the type was to be reinstated after mergers in the 1980s); Continental used the 727-200 as the mainstay of its narrow-body fleet until the late 1980s. In 1968 a new livery was launched. Orange and gold cheatlines adorned a white fuselage; and a black "jetstream" logo (by Six's friend, the noted graphic designer Saul Bass) prominently displayed on the iconic "Golden Tails" of the airline's aircraft. The marketing slogans adopted in 1968 and employed for more than a decade were, "The Airline That Pride Built" and, "The Proud Bird with the Golden Tail.". 1960s saw international routes awarded to Continental (to New Zealand and Australia) in the Transpacific Case, but these were subsequently cancelled by the Nixon Administration.

During the Vietnam War Continental provided extensive cargo and troop transportation for United States Army and Marine Corps forces to Asian and the Pacific bases. Continental's 707-324Cs were the most common non-military aircraft transiting Saigon Tan Son Nhat airport;[8] in 1967, 39% of CO's passenger-miles were on scheduled flights. With Continental's experience in Pacific operations, the carrier formed subsidiary Air Micronesia in May 1968, inaugurating island hopping routes between Yap/Saipan/Guam, Majuro, Rota, Truk, Ponape (Pohnpei) and Honolulu.[5] "Air Mike", as it was known, initially operated with Boeing 727–100 aircraft with open-ocean survival gear, doppler radar, and a large complement of spare parts (including tires).[5] A senior mechanic flew on every Air Mike flight until the late 1970s. Air Micronesia operated as subsidiary Continental Micronesia until 2010. In September 1969, Continental introduced service from Los Angeles to Honolulu/Hilo; in 1970, Continental was awarded routes from Seattle and Portland to San Jose, Hollywood-Burbank Airport, and Ontario, California—all growing airline markets. Nonstop San Francisco to Albuquerque and Dallas flights were added in the same year.

In 1963, Continental was forced to hire the first African-American pilot to work for any major carrier in the United States, Marlon D. Green. Although Continental Airlines first denied him a position as a pilot, after a United States Supreme Court decision allowed a Colorado anti-discrimination law to be applied to his case against Continental. Green flew with Continental for 13 years, between 1965 until his retirement in 1978. His employment paved the way for the hiring of minority pilots by all U.S. carriers, an industry milestone which was finally realized in 1977 after Southern Airways and Piedmont Airlines hired their first minority pilots.

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