The Story Of Ted: United Airlines’ Mid-2000s Low-Cost Subsidiary

Star Alliance founding member United Airlines is one of the US’s ‘big three’ carriers, along with American and Delta. While the Chicago-based airline is a large company in its own right, it has also had several sub-brands over the years. To this day, a collection of regional carriers operate its regional services under the United Express umbrella. However, if we look a little further back into history, a United-owned low-cost subsidiary named Ted emerges.

United Airlines Ted Airbus A320
Ted operated 56 all-economy Airbus A320s. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

What was Ted?

Ted came into existence in the early to mid-200s, fuelled by the growth of US low-cost carriers like Frontier Airlines. This prompted United to decide to launch its own budget subsidiary, in order to compete in this busy and valuable market. Around this time, fellow US legacy carrier Delta made a similar move, launching its own low-cost brand called Song.

Having been launched as a concept in November 2003, Ted commenced operations three months later, on February 12th, 2004. As Ted was a United sub-brand rather than an independent airline in its own right, it flew under United’s AOC. This meant that the aircraft and crew on its flights came from the Chicago-based mainline carrier.

United Airlines Ted Airbus A320
Ted operated low-cost flights for just under five years. Photo: Choster via Wikimedia Commons

This offered both airlines greater flexibility. This was because, if operational requirements demanded it, United planes could operate Ted flights, and vice versa. Ted eventually ceased operations in January 2009. It was merged back into United in response to rising fuel prices, and the removal of Boeing 737 Classic series aircraft from United’s fleet.

Where did Ted fly?

Ted’s primary hub was Denver International Airport (DEN) in Colorado, which is also a key base for United’s mainline and regional brands. It also had secondary hubs in Chicago (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO), and Washington DC (IAD).

By the time the brand was merged back into United’s mainline operations, Ted was serving 23 destinations on a low-cost basis. While it primarily focused on US-centric operations, it did also extend to the Caribbean and Latin America, serving Mexico and Puerto Rico.

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United Airlines Ted Getty
Ted’s advertising personified the brand by speaking about it in the third person. Photo: Getty Images

A very uniform fleet

United branded the Ted aircraft with its signature tulip design on the tail, but painted in gold. The rest of the aircraft remained plain white, save for the airline’s name, and a decal acknowledging that Ted was “part of United.” The US legacy carrier chose the name Ted as these are the last three letters from the first word in its own name.

According to, Ted’s fleet consisted of 56 Airbus A320-200 aircraft. In contrast to their previous roles at United, these all featured a one-class cabin, with 156 economy seats. When they returned to United, they were refitted with a two-class setup featuring a 12-seat premium cabin at the front of the aircraft, as they had had before.

Did you know that United used to have a low-cost subsidiary called Ted? Perhaps you even flew with the airline during its five-year operational spell? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!