CHICAGO, Dec. 17, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- United Airlines today expressed appreciation to Gordon Bethune, the former Chief Executive Officer of Continental Airlines, for a donation of $1 million to its employee relief and scholarship fund charities. Mr. Bethune, who led Continental from 1994 to 2004, is an avid watch collector, and on Friday the Christie's auction company held an Important Watches auction that included the Gordon Bethune Collection of 50 vintage wristwatches. Mr. Bethune donated two of his rarest and most valuable watches to the auction valued at over $1 million, with proceeds benefitting United's employee relief program, United We Care, and the United Scholarship Fund. "On behalf of all of my co-workers who will benefit from Gordon's generosity, I want to extend a heartfelt thank you," said United's president and chief executive officer, Jeff Smisek. "As many of us who worked with Gordon know, he often used watches as an analogy to demonstrate the importance of working together. This is a particularly meaningful donation that greatly benefits two programs that are very near and dear to all of us at United." The United We Care program provides confidential, timely, short term crisis relief to United employees needing basic assistance unavailable through other resources. Employees can apply for assistance in the case of natural disaster, medical illness, fire, theft, accident, domestic violence, or any other crisis beyond the employee's control that causes them to lose time from work. The program is funded primarily by employee payroll deductions. United employees raise additional funds for We Care by hosting sports tournaments, bake sales and silent auctions. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, United We Care provided more than $550,000 in relief funds for many of the airline's 14,000 East Coast employees. The United Scholarship Fund supports the educational development of the airline's domestic and international employees and their dependents. In 2011, the company raised $900,000 for the scholarship fund. The scholarship fund is assisted by its partner Scholarship Management Services, a non-profit group that handles the scholarship award activities of more than 1,000 companies. About United United Airlines and United Express operate an average of 5,557 flights a day to 378 airports on six continents from the airline's hubs in Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Guam, Houston, Los Angeles, New York/ Newark, San Francisco, Tokyo and Washington, D.C. In 2011, United carried more traffic than any other airline in the world, and operated more than two million flights carrying 142 million passengers. United is upgrading its cabins with more flat-bed seats in first and business class and more extra-legroom economy-class seating than any other airline in North America. United now has 180 airplanes featuring DIRECTV®, offering customers more live television access than any other airline in the world. United operates nearly 700 mainline aircraft and has orders for more than 270 new aircraft deliveries through 2022. In 2012, United was the first North American airline to take delivery of new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. United was rated the world's most admired airline on FORTUNE magazine's 2012 airline-industry list of the World's Most Admired Companies. Readers of Global Traveler magazine have voted United's MileagePlus program the best frequent flyer program for eight consecutive years. United is a founding member of Star Alliance, which provides service to 193 countries via 27 member airlines. More than 85,000 United employees reside in every U.S. state and in countries around the world. For more information, visit united.com or follow United on Twitter and Facebook. The common stock of United's parent, United Continental Holdings, Inc., is traded on the NYSE under the symbol UAL.