Continental merger may affect Houston

Continental Airlines has been in talks with United Airlines about a possible merger
April 26, 2010 4:15:31 PM PDT
The New York Times says talks between Houston-based Continental and United Airlines have hit a roadblock. Even so, Houston leaders are pushing to keep the airline here if and when a deal is struck.

United and Continental first flirted with the idea of a merger two years ago. But this time, multiple sources say the talks are far more serious.

Continental Airlines employees say the potential merger with United Airlines is making them nervous.

"It affects headquarters possibly relocating to Chicago, so there's just a lot of changes that would take place that we as Continental employees don't want to see happen," said a 16-year Continental veteran who didn't want to be identified.

That employee also is worried about layoffs.

Continental Airlines would not comment about merger talks, but local leaders are extremely worried that thousands of local jobs would disappear if the airline merges and moves to Chicago.

"We're asking Continental, to hold up Houston and to remain here with their corporate headquarters," U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said. "I am asking you to be the good neighbor and realize these jobs are important to us."

Jackson lee says she's asking state and local officials to put together an economic incentive package to entice Continental to stay in Houston if a merger does occur.

Mayor Annise Parker says it's in the works, but admits Chicago already has its economic package on the table.

"The package is coming as we speak together," Parker said. "The only advantage that Chicago has is that they began to put this incentive package earlier, because they knew United was united was in the hunt for a partner."

Parker says she's reached out to Continental CEO Jeff Smisek but has not spoken with him.

She's confident Texas can put together an attractive offer, while employees and customers hope it's just not too late.

"That's the most important factor, the loss of jobs," Continental customer Michael Vogel said. "Continental is one of the major employers in the Houston area."

Some Continental employees said they're a little frustrated that city and state leaders didn't start putting together an incentive package long before this week.

City officials expect to present an incentive plan as early as Tuesday.

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