US Airways-American Airlines merger

Pieces falling into place for ‘smooth’ airline merger transition

The Associated PressFebruary 15, 2013 

AMR US Airways Merger

A U.S. Airways jet passes an American Airlines jet, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. The merger of the two airlines has given birth to a mega airline with more passengers than any other in the world. (AP Photo/Matt York)

MATT YORK — The ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • Local impact Columbia Metropolitan Airport passengers eventually stand to benefit from the merger announced Thursday of American Airlines and US Airways, airport officials said. Here’s how: More nonstop flights: US Airways – with its frequent flier program and nonstop flights to Washington, D.C. – has the second-largest share of Columbia’s air travel market, behind Delta Airlines. Passengers may be able to use their frequent flier miles to more nonstop destinations from the airport. Bigger planes to Dallas: American Airlines has popular daily nonstop flights to Dallas – often filled close to capacity. Passengers potentially can look for larger aircraft flying between Columbia and Dallas. More routes: As the merger begins to take shape, the Columbia airport is in a better position to negotiate new routes, which means travelers should have more options in the months ahead.

— US Airways CEO Doug Parker has landed the big merger he sought for years. Now the soon-to-be CEO of the new American Airlines has to make it work.

Planes need painting. Frequent flier programs have to be combined. And the new airline will still be weak in Asia and need to win back business travelers who have been drifting away to other airlines.

The two airlines announced an $11 billion merger Thursday that will turn American into the world’s biggest airline, with some 6,700 daily flights and annual revenue of roughly $40 billion. It’s a coup for Parker, who runs the much-smaller US Airways and has long pursued a deal like this one with the strong belief that airlines would have a better shot at consistent profits if they bulk up through mergers.

The latest deal will mean that the four biggest U.S. airlines are all the product of mergers that began in 2008. Those deals bring benefits, but they also show that putting together two airlines smoothly is not easy.

Some of the work on the latest combination has already been done. Pilots from both airlines have agreed to the outlines of a deal that should make it much easier to get a final, joint contract. And Parker is inclined to use American’s computer systems such as those that track reservations and passenger information, he said on a conference call. He said past mergers have shown that it’s easier to use the bigger airline’s technology, because then fewer people at the smaller airline need to learn it.

Noting those factors, JP Morgan analyst Jamie Baker predicted a “relatively smooth” transition.

The combined carrier is going to be called American Airlines and be based in Fort Worth. The deal is expected to close by the end of September, as part of American’s emergence from Chapter 11 protection.

Even after that, travelers on American and US Airways won’t notice immediate changes. It likely will be months before the frequent-flier programs are combined and years before the two airlines are fully integrated.

Parker sought a merger almost as soon as American parent AMR Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection in November 2011.

As Parker pushed ahead, creditors forced AMR’s management to consider the value of a merger compared with a plan for an independent American. Eventually they concluded that the best return for stakeholders, and the best chance to compete with bigger rivals United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, came from a merger.

The deal also caps turbulent decade of bankruptcies and consolidation for the U.S. airline industry.

Since 2008, Delta gobbled up Northwest, United absorbed Continental and Southwest bought AirTran Airways. If this latest merger goes through, American, United, Delta and Southwest will control about three-quarters of U.S. airline traffic.

The rapid consolidation has allowed the surviving airlines to offer bigger route networks that appeal to high-paying business travelers. And it has allowed them to limit the supply of seats, which helps prop up fares and airline profits.

That concerns some consumer advocates, but Parker sought to assure travelers that the merger helps them too – by creating a bigger rival to United and Delta.

“There are two very large airlines right now and this creates a third,” Parker said in an interview. “It provides good competition to those two.”

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