The Way I See It
What the American Airlines and US Airways merger means for Erie.
Back in January of 2012, American Airlines and US Airways started talks about a possible merger between the two groups. And just a little over a year later, the two officially announced these plans in February 2013 – creating what would be the largest airline in the world.
This merger would see more than 6,700 daily flights to 336 locations in 56 countries worldwide. Ultimately, the new American Airlines would provide the most service across the East Coast and Central regions of the U.S. (Read: Hopeful connections for Erie).
However, this past week, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a suit to block this merger. While over the last decade, the government has given carte blanche to a series of airline mergers: Because the industry has fallen into a cyclical pattern of damaging competition, they chose this time to block it, arguing that this pattern has ended – alongside the public's tolerance for industry consolidation.
I don't know about you, but when it comes to flying, I focus on two major elements: convenience and cost. Personally, convenience is probably the top of my list, because as all of us know in Erie, there's still only a handful of connecting hubs from our fair Erie International Airport/Tom Ridge Field – Cleveland, Detroit, and Philadelphia. Even with that entire runway expansion.
And as it stands, the only airline flying into Detroit from here is Delta. So, as a passenger in our small corner of the world, I'm thinking there's a possible benefit to this merger. While the exact plans for the routes haven't been laid out, sometimes I go with the "build it, and they will come" mentality. Again, even with that runway expansion.
If the airlines don't merge, they could offer lower prices, but also may ultimately be forced to cut routes or go out of business as they try to compete with the much larger United and Delta. And take note, business travelers: you are more likely to lose out even more than us fair-weather flyers, since there would be no third alternative to the large domestic and international route networks offered by United and Delta.
I understand the Justice Departments fear: a monopoly. By all means, if this merger went through, the four biggest airlines would control more than 80 percent of the domestic air-travel market and would have a monopoly over several U.S. routes. But consider this: Whirlpool alone currently dominates the major household appliance department with 43 percent of the market share – and I don't see the government up in arms about this one. Why is there no protest over the dishwasher monopoly, I ask?! Well, probably because it's a dishwasher.
But I digress… it's probably true the costs may go up, but if we can get a direct flight into New York, Washington, D.C., or Orlando, I think some of us would be okay with this idea. Yes, costs are probably going to rise; however, in recent decades the inflation-adjusted price of an average round trip has been nearly cut in half. These price drops may have been too ambitious, leaving airlines with little profit, leading to all the other mergers. Their challenge now is to convince a federal judge in D.C. that, without the merger, the industry as a whole — and these two in particular — will be in trouble the next time fuel prices go up – or the economy goes down.
The way I see it, it comes down to this: pay more and get more, or pay less and get less.
And it's now in the hands of one man to decide.
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