United, the nation's second-largest carrier, is expected to take up the matter Thursday at a meeting of parent UAL Corp.'s board of directors.
No vote is expected, and the person close to the talks said a decision isn't imminent on which of three options currently under consolidation United will pursue: consolidating with US Airways , forming an alliance with Continental , or
remaining a stand-alone carrier.
Chicago-based United had been close to combining forces with Continental until the Houston-based carrier said April 27 that it would not seek a merger. But Continental left the door open to an alliance with another carrier.
"As we've said over the last few weeks, we are examining our alliance relationships as we think it's important that we be a major player in one of the three major global airlines alliances," Continental spokeswoman Mary Clark said.
United spokeswoman Jean Medina declined comment.
An alliance, in which the companies would work together in many ways but not merge their operations, would provide a way for them to raise more revenue without the integration problems that come with formal consolidation. It could set pricing and schedules and have U.S. antitrust immunity.
Mergers also can be highly disruptive, costly and risky for airlines. US Airways is still operating basically as two airlines more than two years after combining with America West because of disagreements between unions.