NEW YORK - Continental Airlines Inc, the world's fifth-largest airline, joined the Star Alliance on Tuesday, becoming one of the top dogs in this network of 25 global carriers.

The switch draws Continental nearer to UAL Corp's United Airlines, about 18 months after Continental ended merger talks between the two carriers.

Houston-based Continental was previously part of SkyTeam, which is now led by the world's largest carrier, Delta Air Lines Inc.

Star Alliance is the largest airline network in the world and also includes Deutsche Lufthansa AG.

The U.S. Transportation Department gave its final approval of Continental's switch in July, allowing the airline and member carriers in the network to share pricing, scheduling and other information.

In a statement, Continental said it entered into bilateral commercial agreements with the other 24 alliance members within the last two days. (Reporting by Deepa Seetharaman, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)