Here is an excerpt from a reply I wrote...
This is aimed at those who have questioned United Airlines' size historically, as this question pops up a lot.
And to those who declare United's recent falling-down as a result of its focus on being the biggest. It is more than just that, United has focused on size since the beginning of time...
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United has always been a Titan, all the way from its foundings from Boeing's and PW's nest, to the failed travel empire building of Dick Ferris.
UAL maintained the "largest single airline in the free world" distinction several times, the longest period in between the merger of Capitol (1960s) and before Crandall's Growth Plan at AA (mid 80s). After briefly losing the title to AA in the mid 80s, UA regained the status in the early 90s when Wolf started his own empire building.
United placed the largest order ever in world history in 1989, with 68 777-200s and 30 74-400s on order/option at that point.
Just because they were a domestic-only airline doesn't mean they were small... international operations are still less than 20% of UAL's whole operation.
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Now if everyone read Hard Landing, we can all live in a happy little world!