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1970s

At Six's insistence, Continental (with Pan Am and Trans World Airlines) was one of the three launch airlines for the Boeing 747. On June 26, 1970, Continental became the second carrier (after TWA) to put the 747 into U.S. domestic service. Its upper-deck first class lounge and main deck "Polynesian Pub" won awards worldwide for the most refined cabin interior among all airlines, as did meal services developed by Continental's Cordon Bleu-trained executive chef, Lucien DeKeyser.[8] Continental's 747 services from Chicago and Denver to Los Angeles and Honolulu set the standard for service in the western U.S.[5][8] When asked by one Denver customer service agent in 1974 why he flew Continental wherever he could, Hollywood legend Henry Fonda remarked, "This operation is class; strictly class!" On June 1, 1972, Continental's widebody DC-10 service began. Six had insisted that Continental place a large order for DC-10s with manufacturer McDonnell Douglas. This decision again proved prescient, since the publicity associated with Continental's splashy 747 service in the Chicago-Denver-Los Angeles-Honolulu backbone corridor had stimulated not only increased market share, but increased traffic for all carriers in these markets. Additionally Denver, Houston and Seattle were experiencing very rapid growth in the 1970s. The DC-10s quickly assumed most of the duties of flying between Denver and Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston and Seattle, and between Houston-Los Angeles.[5][8]

During the 1970s, Denver was the principal hub of the airline. The 747s were focused on the Chicago-Los Angeles-Honolulu routes, with a single daily round trip through Denver. The DC-10 aircraft operated in large inter-city markets (usually from Los Angeles to Chicago, Denver, Houston and Honolulu; and from Denver to Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle and Houston). DC-9s and 727s predominated over the rest of the system, as well as supplementing frequencies in the DC-10 markets.[8] Next to Braniff, Continental operated fewer aircraft types (four: the 747, DC-10, 727-200, and DC-9-10) during this period than any U.S. trunkline, affording substantial savings in parts, maintenance, and crew training logistics and costs.[8] The DC-10 enabled the airline to capitalize on the burgeoning traffic growth in western U.S. markets. Continental saw market share grow annually in each DC-10 market through the 1970s, until relative market parity was achieved with United, the principal competitor on most of the DC-10 routes. The same service innovations introduced with the 747 fleet were initially implemented on Continental's DC-10s, including the "Polynesian Pub". However, after the 1973 oil crisis-induced fuel price increases, higher seating capacity was needed to achieve profitable economics and the DC-10 pubs were removed.[8] Continental phased out its 747s in 1978 in favor of the more economical DC-10s (747s would return to Continental during the Lorenzo era, providing services from Newark to London and Paris). From the late-70s until it was merged with Texas International, Continental operated only DC-10 and 727-200 aircraft.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Continental's coveted reputation resulted from the focus placed on exceptional quality of service and customer relations. This policy resulted directly from Bob Six's personal penchant for excellence in every service category, and from his persistent efforts to show up the larger trunk airlines whose network size Continental could not yet match. From 1961 to 1982, Continental was headquartered at the western end of the Los Angeles International Airport property on World Way West. The facility included the general offices, system operations control, the central maintenance facility, flight kitchen, and Los Angeles crew bases.

In 1974, after years of delays and legal proceedings, Continental inaugurated service between Houston and Miami, and on May 21, 1976, Continental was authorized to operate long-sought routes between San Diego and Denver. President Jimmy Carter and Civil Aeronautics Board chairman Alfred Kahn had been promoting deregulation of the airline industry, which would dissolve the CAB and for the first time in industry history allow U.S. carriers to determine without government supervision where they would fly, and how much they could charge for their services. Continental began service from Denver to Miami/Ft. Lauderdale and Tampa/St. Petersburg in Florida. That year, President Carter authorized Continental to begin daily round trips between Air Micronesia destination Saipan and Japan, and approved a route for Continental from Los Angeles to Australia via Honolulu, American Samoa, Fiji, New Zealand and Australia. The South Pacific service began May 1, 1979. After the 1978 passage of the Airline Deregulation Act, Continental embarked on an aggressive program of route expansion. October 1978 saw Continental begin flights from the New York area airports to Houston and Denver, and from Denver to Phoenix. That same month, Continental inaugurated DC-10 service between Los Angeles and Taipei, via Honolulu and Guam. Service between Houston and Washington, D.C., began in January 1979. In June 1979, Continental linked Denver with Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, San Francisco and San Jose and also began Houston-Tampa service.[8] The airline suffered in 1979 when the DC-10 was grounded nationwide. Given that Continental Airlines only operated the DC-10 and the 727 at the time, flights to Hawaii were cancelled during the grounding. By the time of the Texas Air Corp. acquisition in 1981, Continental's post-deregulation growth had allowed it to penetrate every major U.S. airline market (and all of the regional markets) from the hubs in Denver and Houston, and the rapid expansion in the air was answered with large-scale facilities expansions at each of these airports. In Denver, Continental's very rapid growth provided the final impetus for the construction of the new Denver International Airport, which would be completed almost fifteen years later.

While deregulation allowed Continental to expand into new profitable areas, it hurt the company's existing business as consumers were for the first time able to choose lower fares over Continental's better service. During 1978, Continental explored the possibility of a merger with Western Airlines, which held a nearby headquarters and similar fleet.[8] The route systems would have been complementary, with little overlap; because, although they both served the Western states, Continental had strength in Hawaii, southern-tier and the Great Plains states; Western's strengths were in the California intrastate market, Alaska, Mexico, and the Intermountain West. Both airlines served the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain states, but along different routes from Los Angeles, Denver, San Francisco, Seattle and Phoenix. This merger was not consummated. Unlike some airlines (notably Braniff whose expansion was so rapid and unsustainable that the additional costs made investment recovery impossible, and the carrier was forced into bankruptcy and liquidation), Continental's rate of expansion following passage of the Airline Deregulation Act seems, in retrospect, to have been appropriate. The markets that were added were almost all profitable, absorbing some of the hits to its existing markets and helping it in its difficult times between 1982 and 1994.

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