In October 1984, just over a year after Frank Lorenzo took Continental kicking and screaming into bankruptcy protection, his Texas Air Group made an order with Boeing for 24 737-300 aircaft in a deal then estimated at about $600 million. Of the aircraft 12 were planned for delivery to Continental and an unspecified number for Lorenzo's non-union startup New York Air. Lorenzo stated that some of the aircraft were to replace elderly 727-100s, but as was often the case with his statements that wasn't exactly what happenned as the 727s continued in service until the early 90s. Texas Air had already acquired new MD-80s only the year before, however the huge American Airlines order had meant that McDonnell Douglas was not able to deliver new aircraft before 1986.
Texas Air followed up its original 737 order with a further one for 50 more aircraft and 50 options in August 1989. The order didn't specify which mark of 737 would be purchased and originally only 30 orders and 30 options were ultimately destined for Continental. The remaining 40 were supposed to go to Eastern. This of course never eventuated and it may have been merely a smoke-screen as the striking Eastern pilot's union representative stated at the time. Continental's second bankruptcy no doubt impacted its ability to pay for the new Boeings and it wasn't until 1994 that new 737s began to arrive again.
In the end the Texas Air Group ordered 60 737-300s and 55 were delivered between 1985 and 1987. Eight were diverted to CO’s sister company New York Air but joined the mainline when the two merged in 1987. The five extra machines were delivered to other airlines but three were acquired in the mid 90s (ships 356-358) and seven further new builds arrived in 1994-95 (380-386) giving a grand total of 65 aircraft. Many of the aircraft were leased but regardless most served a lengthy career with Continental. N69348 was operated until 2009 and was scrapped in 2010. Continental retired its final 737-300 prior to the United merger on March 29, 2010.
When 737s did arrive in the new Continental globe colours they were not series 300s but the smaller series 500s. The 500s, registered in the 600 ship registration sequence, slowly replaced 727-100s, 737-200s and DC-9s and by October 1998 70 had been delivered. One, N20643, was lost on September 16 1998 in a landing accident at Guadalajara. The 737-500s were relatively young classics and were equipped with blended winglets from March 2007. N14645 received hers in October.
Another reason for the long careers of the relatively inefficient 737-500s were scope/outsourcing agreements and the long term leases the aircraft were on. As the leases expired through 2012 and 2013 the 500s were removed from service. The last 737-500 wasn’t retired until after the merger into United. N62631 operated United’s last 737 classic service on May 30 2013 between Cleveland and Houston. Most of the 737-500s have since found second careers within Russia (UTAir, Transaero) or Indonesia (Sriwijaya Air and NAM Air). N14645 has served with UTAir as VQ-BPP since March 2012.
Salpukis, A. Oct 1984. New Planes for Continental New York Times.
Dallos, R.E. Jul 1989. Texas Air Orders 50 Jets From Boeing : Eastern to Get Some of Continental's Planes. LA Times
1989, August. Continental buys up to 100 737s. Flight International
2010. Continental Airlines and the 737-500. Airliners.net
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: