Abbott’s new line on airline merger: Oops

Posted Wednesday, Oct. 02, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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It’s great that Attorney General Greg Abbott made nice with the heads of American Airlines and US Airways on Tuesday.

Abbott said “a settlement agreement has been successfully negotiated” that allows him to withdraw from a federal lawsuit seeking to block the airlines’ merger.

That is very nice, but it’s clear that the attorney general, who is running for governor, was trying to get rid of a political albatross that was dragging him down. He dressed that dead bird up and threw it high in the air, trying his best to make it look like it was flying away.

He didn’t address all the nasty things he said when he joined U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in filing the suit just seven weeks ago.

The settlement dealt only with his initial explanation of the suit. He issued a statement Aug. 13 saying his participation “was prompted by the State’s concerns about the potential for reduced airline service to several of Texas’ smaller airports that are currently served exclusively by American Airlines and American Eagle flights.”

The settlement says American will continue daily service to 22 airports statewide, the merged airline will maintain a “large” hub at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and it will keep its headquarters in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, all for at least three years.

There’s an escape clause for the airline if there is “any material adverse change” in its cost of complying with the agreement.

On Aug. 16, three days after joining the suit, Abbott wrote an op-ed column for The Dallas Morning News accusing the two airlines and their officials of violating antitrust laws. He wrote that “the legal violations appear so overt that it would offend my oath of office not to take action.”

Nothing in the settlement agreement resolves antitrust issues.

“For airlines, the free market is morphing into an oligopolistic market,” Abbott wrote. “Competition is giving way to price and market control by a limited number of players who appear intent to agree on price increases rather than competing for customers.”

“The facts compel action,” he wrote, “to ensure the rule of law is enforced.”

Apparently, for Abbott those facts have flown away on their own.

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