United and Continental closed the deal yesterday that will create the world’s biggest airline, although it will be months before it looks that way to travelers.
By early 2012, travelers will see a combined airline called United Airlines, with Continental’s blue and gold colors and globe logo on the tail.
Between now and then, the new company, United Continental Holdings Inc., will run the two as separate operations, with each airline’s customers checking in at Continental or United websites and airport counters.
Their frequent flier programs will stay separate for now, too.
The company said travelers should begin to see a more unified brand in the spring.
Will they see higher fares, too?
Rick Seaney, chief executive of FareCompare.com, said the economy will hold down prices in the short run.
Eventually, he expects reduced competition to lead to higher fares — the result of Delta’s takeover of Northwest, Continental’s disappearance, and Southwest’s pending purchase of AirTran.
“If you take two carriers out, and a third pretty soon, prices are likely to go up,’’ he said.