There are plenty of opinions out there right now about the future of the aviation market in the USA in light of this week’s announcement about US Airways and American Airlines finally coming to terms on their merger this past week. I’m only slightly dismayed – though not at all surprised – to see so many bloggers announcing that they know what the loyalty program is going to look like and what to do about points right now (here’s a hint: they’re all guessing). I’m not at all surprised, however, to se so many pundits speaking to what the net effect will be for the traveling public. Anyone on the industry side is lauding the stability and efficiencies of the larger route network and more flexible fleet. From the consumer side, however, the views are a little less positive. In some cases, VERY much so.
Here are two headlines which made the rounds a few days ago shortly after the announcement came out. One is from The Onion, a satire site which plays on real news. The other is from Salon.com, something more akin to a real news site. Though from reading the headlines it isn’t entirely clear which is which:
U.S. Airways and American Airlines, two crappy airlines, are merging to form one mega airline — the biggest in the world — with a $11 billion deal agreed Thursday.
American Airlines and US Airways stunned the aviation industry Thursday upon announcing the two air travel titans have combined in an $11 billion merger that sources say will unite the industry powerhouses into the world’s largest and most complete pain in the ass.
Even with the first line of the story included it is not clear which one is satire. If you keep reading it becomes clear reasonably quickly, mostly because the Onion article includes some rather entertaining "quotes" attributed to American’s current CEO. But that would require actually reading past the headline.
It does raise the interesting question, however, of just how challenging the merger will be over the coming years for consumers. Higher fares are almost a certainty; that’s what happens when competition is reduced. And while the two carriers were quick to point out that only a tiny number of their routes overlap they skipped the part where they serve many of the same markets, just via different hubs. The combined carrier will still have woefully limited coverage to Asia and the Middle East (odds of the TLV route sticking around given the open TWA-related judgment against AA??) and Europe isn’t all that much better. Africa and Australia are complete black holes on the map. Their domestic route map is pretty good, except on the west coast where they’d still need Alaska Airlines to fill in the north-south shuttle service and provide coverage to a number of markets. The combined carrier will be a beast in the Caribbean and Latin America, but that’s another situation where the benefits to consumers are questionable; the two were, in many cases, the main competition for each other and that’s disappearing.
There is no doubt in my mind that the stability of the industry will improve from this merger and that is, in general, a good thing. That doesn’t mean I’m not just a bit worried about how it will impact my personal travel patterns. After all, I’m on a pretty tight budget and I cannot get enough time in the air.