Q&A: United Mileage Plus chief discusses upgrades, award blocking

The 500-mile concept was born in a different age when competition dynamics were different and – indeed – schedules were different. It's clearly something which will be part of this sort of holistic review we're going to do with the program.

Mutzabaugh:So, it's safe to say that even if you can't commit to a change, you are saying this policy will at least get a second look?

Atkinson: Exactly. I hear that customer. It's a good question. I know it's a concern. We have to put that into our business mix and decide whether it surfaces above the line of below the line in terms of the most-important things we need to work on.

Mutzabaugh:We've heard from a lot of people who are looking forward to Continental's addition to the Star Alliance. What is the latest timetable for Continental's integration into the alliance and are there any benchmark timelines that have been established at this point?

Atkinson:The fourth quarter (of 2009 remains) the timeline. That is largely driven by hook-ups of systems that, of course, Continental (doesn't) have to make just to us, (but) they have to make to (the) 20-odd other carriers in Star. So it is a pretty big job of negotiating frequent-flier agreements, setting technology, creating airport systems, training and the like.

But, we're having regular meetings with them, obviously, in making sure we're set up. We're well ahead of schedule. They're telling us they're absolutely on track to meet the requirements Star requires of carriers joining. So they'll definitely be a Star member before the end of the year.

Mutzabaugh:And, I would assume that Continental disengaging from SkyTeam has its own challenges – that it's not just as simple as pulling a plug or flipping a switch?

Atkinson: I think it's not without complexity. We've built up a huge respect for their team since we got to know them. I know they want a seamless transition for the benefit of their customers as much as for the benefit of their business. I have every confidence that they'll (do that).

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