United Continental aims to appear as single airline

CHICAGO Wed May 18, 2011 7:26am EDT

Passengers check in at the Continental Airlines counter right next to a United Airlines counter in Chicago's O'Hare International Airport May 3, 2010. REUTERS/John Gress

Passengers check in at the Continental Airlines counter right next to a United Airlines counter in Chicago's O'Hare International Airport May 3, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/John Gress

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - United Continental (UAL.N) on Wednesday said it was on track to achieve government approval in the fourth quarter to operate the former United Airlines and Continental Airlines as a single carrier, but it wants its customers to feel like it is a single airline much sooner.

The parent of the world's largest airline, formed from a $3.17 billion merger of United and Continental, aims to migrate to a single reservation system in the first three months of 2012.

Meanwhile, the company is rebranding itself and combining some of its customer service functions to ease the transition for frequent flyers who may be confused or frustrated by the thin line that currently separates the two airlines.

"What we're trying to do is bring as many of the customer benefits as early as we can," Chief Executive Jeff Smisek told Reuters. He said the company will acknowledge what internally is known as "Customer Day One" on Wednesday.

Some of the integration milestones visible to United and Continental customers will be introduced first at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and later be extended to other airports.

The company said customers can expect to start seeing integrated self-service capabilities on its websites and at check-in kiosks; a priority program for check-in, airport screening and boarding; and the ability to link United and Continental frequent flyer programs to combine miles.

United Continental also will feature common in-flight menus on its two airlines, aligned customer travel policies, new signage for airport check-in and boarding areas, and a combined presence on social media like Twitter and Facebook.

"This is the first tangible piece of having a more consistent travel experience," Smisek said of integration steps.

He said the carrier wants its customers to feel as if United and Continental are one airline even though they will operate as separate airlines for several more months.

(Reporting by Kyle Peterson, editing by Bernard Orr)

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