Merger means airline passengers will have fewer choices

November 15, 2013 

Whenever airline companies merge, it reduces the choices for the public, and despite assurances that fares for ordinary passengers won’t increase, there’s no guarantee.

So it is with the merger of American Airlines and US Airways, hereafter known as American Airlines Group Inc. The merger, approved by the federal government, will create the biggest airline as measured by traffic. As part of the deal, the airlines will have to surrender some gates at big airports across the country. The theory there, anyway, is that smaller airlines can get room to compete.

But in fact, choices for passengers have been shrinking for years, and it’s harder and harder for the feisty little airlines to bump heads with the big ones. The industry itself has a tough row to hoe, given the cost of fuel. It relies on corporate travelers who are paying the freight and whose companies can claim part of the cost as a business expense.

For that traveler who’s trying to get to grandma’s for Thanksgiving, who wants to shop around for a good fare, one that’s affordable for family travel, continued mergers aren’t good news. It’s really very simple: Fewer choices mean less competition which means less of an incentive for airlines to hold prices down.

In the wild days of lots and lots of competition (including from US Airways, which used to battle the bigs) it’s true that airlines did occasionally offer too-good-to-be-true fares with the hopes of making it up on business travel, a pattern that got some in trouble. It’s safe to say those days are long gone now.

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