updated 6/14/2005 4:09:37 PM ET 2005-06-14T20:09:37

Passengers arriving late on some United Airlines flights can take this bit of solace: Their frequent flier accounts will be a bit fatter for their troubles.

United on Tuesday said it will give 500 miles to passengers delayed by at least 30 minutes on flights to and from O’Hare International Airport, its largest hub, and seven destinations: Philadelphia; Boston; New York’s La Guardia; Newark, N.J.; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Dallas-Fort Worth; and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

United will honor the offer even for flights delayed because of bad weather or air traffic control problems. The program, which began Tuesday, will run through the end of the year and might be extended beyond that, United spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said.

“It is to show our customers in Chicago that we have service that is better than the competition,” Urbanski said.

American Airlines, United’s largest competitor at O’Hare, will “certainly look at what they’re doing, as we do all the initiatives of all our competitors,” spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan said. “Our focus continues to be providing our customers with an on-time arrival for all our flights, not just a chosen few.”

United chose those cities because they are important business-travel routes, Urbanski said. She said United’s business travelers have cited on-time performance as an primary factor in selecting a carrier.

Urbanski said United will not give those flights priority on the runway — either allowing them to cut in line for takeoff or to get to a gate — in an effort to beat the 30-minute threshold.

She declined to say how much the program would cost the bankrupt carrier, saying only that it would be “pretty cost efficient.”

United, a unit of Elk Grove Village, Ill.-based UAL Corp., also said flights departing to those cities will be assigned to the O’Hare concourse closest to security checkpoints as a convenience for business travelers.

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