United Airlines and Continental Airlines, both members of the Star Alliance, could proclaim plans to merge as early as Monday, a source close to both parties said Friday.
The source requested anonymity as they were not authorized to speak formally on the matter. Continental and United are nearing the end of talks to unite operations, retaining the united name and Chicago headquarters; however Continental CEO Jeff Smisek would take over the top spot at UAL, eventually replacing present UAL chief Glenn Tilton.
The combination with an unchanged route structure would be some 10% larger than Delta Air Lines, which became the world's major airline after merging with Northwest Airlines in 2009. The new United would probable retain that position, even if forced to give up some routes on anti-trust concerns, a common practice in such combinations.
Such a merger would likely breathe new life into the beleaguered United brand, which has experienced dilution after over a decade of cost cuts and the chief, most complex airline bankruptcy in US history.
Members of United's frequent flier program Mileage Plus have extensive voiced concerns about the airline's blocking of Star Alliance partner award inventory, preferred instead to turn fliers to redeem miles for award flights on United's own flights - a much less luxurious award for United to provide, but at less value for Mileage Plus members who may wish to take advantage of other carriers more competitive premium class products on long haul international flights.