Nate Asplund, who flies to Mexico regularly for his job at BNSF Railway, hopes the American Airlines-US Airways merger signals a return to the glory days of business travel for the Fort Worth-based carrier.
But others worry that creating the world’s biggest airline could result in fewer flight options and higher fares.
Starting Monday, road warriors will be watching closely to see how the big merger affects their traveling lives.
Asplund, an assistant vice president at Fort Worth-based BNSF, hopes American regains its status as the carrier of choice for business travelers, a reputation the airline enjoyed for years before 9-11, rising fuel prices and a horrific economy forced it to file for bankruptcy.
“It’s been since the mid-’90s when American used to have the leadership,” said Asplund, who flies almost weekly from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport to Mexico City. Asplund usually flies on American but occasionally takes Aeromexico.
Waiting for an American flight at DFW’s Terminal D on a recent morning, Asplund predicted that the merger will improve employee morale and in turn enhance the traveling experience for customers.
“I think it creates an ability for the companies to invest and have better equipment and have more engaged employees with a spirit that they’re going to have success,” he said. “They’ve been kind of beaten down. It’s kind of neat talking with them now about what they think. They’re energized and they think there’s a good future. It makes a big difference.”
Roberto Martinez of Plano, who often travels from DFW to Mexico, South America and Europe for his financial services business, said he hopes the merger will give him more choices.
“I’m hoping the service improves and we have more options for travel,” Martinez said. “I travel a lot internationally, and I’m hoping the merger will provide more opportunities for the destinations I go to.”
Preserving frequent-flier miles is also a major concern, Martinez said. The new American, which will essentially be operated by US Airways’ old management team, plans to announce as soon as Jan. 7 the details of merging the loyalty rewards programs.
“My experience in other mergers has been that the airlines honor the frequent-flier programs, and that’s very important for a merger to be successful,” he said. “If they lose the loyalty of the frequent fliers, then the merger will not succeed.”
Cuts on the way?
Others predict that within months the new airline will cut routes between cities served by both American and US Airways.
“That means they can drop a lot of flights and they’ll still have excess capacity,” said Charles Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, which fought the merger. “When that happens, that means customers will have fewer options.”
At many airports, jobs will be slashed to eliminate redundancies, he said. However, the impact will not be as great at places such as DFW, where American is the dominant carrier and its service overlaps little with that of US Airways, he said.
“They always consolidate their maintenance people, the service groups — the groups that clean the aircraft, provide catering, mechanics, refueling,” he said. “There’s a whole domino effect.”
Competitors such as Dallas-based Southwest Airlines can expect a boost, said Brett Snyder, founder of the travel website Crankyflier.com.
As part of a settlement with states and the Justice Department, American agreed to give up gates at several big airports, notably Reagan National near Washington, D.C. Southwest is expected to pick up some of that space. Last week, the government announced that Southwest would get 22 takeoff and landing slots at New York’s LaGuardia Airport.
Overall, Snyder said, it’s not a given that the new American will make large-scale flight reductions at its hubs. And the merger may allow the new airline to improve its connections to places such as Asia from airports such as DFW, he said.
“If any hubs, I think, would see a reduction, it’s Los Angeles and New York because American isn’t really dominant in those areas,” he said. “But elsewhere, I wouldn’t expect to see much change.