With the merger of United and Continental completed, the work of actually merging the two airlines' operations begins.
For many frequent flyers, the consolidation of the Mileage Plus and OnePass mileage programs is the top concern. Among the outstanding questions:
- When will the programs become one?
- Which program rules will prevail in the new program?
- Will United's Economy Plus be retained?
Regarding the timing question, the latest information from United is that the two programs won't be "fully integrated" until some point in 2012. That's a long time to wait.
United and Continental customers will also have to wait for official word on the new program's final form, although many of the two programs' policies have already been brought into alignment, in the run-up to the merger.
But elite members of the two carriers' programs won't have to wait to receive reciprocal upgrade benefits. According to this week's news release:
United Continental Holdings, Inc. announces that Mileage Plus and OnePass elite members are now able to sit more comfortably on both United and Continental flights. The new reciprocal seating benefits give Mileage Plus elite members access to domestic first-class upgrades, extra legroom seating and preferred seating on Continental flights, while OnePass elite members can enjoy unlimited domestic first-class and business-class upgrades and Economy Plus seating on United flights.
Although the new benefits are good for members of both programs, Continental elites stand to gain more than their United counterparts. Continental's "extra legroom seating" and "preferred seating" are nothing more than exit-row coach seats, or window or aisle seats.
United's Economy Plus, on the other hand, is a significant upgrade from normal coach seating, offering between three and five extra inches of legroom, in a dedicated section toward the front of the plane.
Which brings us to the last question, regarding the fate of United's Economy Plus. There's no official word on whether it will remain in place long term.
While United may be up in the air about the matter, there's no such ambivalence among elite members of both programs. Keeping Economy Plus would be a decided plus for the new program; and doing otherwise would be a major minus.
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.