Many have speculated that the reported merger talks between United and US Airways were merely a ploy to draw Continental back into the fold after it rebuffed United's merger offer a year back. Well, that narrative seems to be playing out, with the news that Continental is expected to make an offer for United.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that an offer, while not yet a sure thing, makes a ton of sense. Continental is by far the strongest of the three when it comes to finances, but would find itself a distant fourth in terms of airline size if the merger went through (behind Delta, a merged United/US Airways, and American). However, if it merged with United, the combined carrier would be the world's largest, with a far-reaching network that currently features little overlap, meaning regulatory approval would be somewhat easier to earn. None of this is lost on United, of course, which would likely prefer Continental over US Airways.
This whole story rings of a junior-high love melodrama: United crushes on Continental, but Continental "just wants to be friends"—nothing romantic, just, you know, hanging out in star alliance and stuff. So United starts flirting with US Airways to get back at Continental, even wearing US Airways' varsity jacket around school and holding hands in the hallway. Continental pretends not to care, but privately wonders if it screwed things up, then starts showing up at United's house late at night weeping and throwing pebbles at the window. (Also, they're all teenage vampires.)
In all seriousness though, things could get very interesting if Continental does throw its hat into the ring. For consumers, a United-Continental tie-up probably has more appeal, if only because Continental is a marginally more consumer-oriented carrier. But since mergers aren't really about the customers in the first place, we'll just have to be content watching the drama unfold.
Readers, which merger would you rather see: United-US Airways, or United-Continental? And yes, "none of the above" is an option.