Why an American-US Airways merger worries me

In my daily Google alert email for American Airlines, I see multiple articles about the ever-increasing possibility that US Airways will be successful in making a bid for American. And deep in my gut, I think it’s gonna happen.

I have absolutely no insight into the economics of such a merger, but if I were to believe the campaign Doug Parker is on, it sounds like investors and creditors alike would reap the benefits of it going through. But that’s not what I, an end user, care about.

I didn’t follow the Delta-Northwest merger really at all as I hadn’t flown with either carrier since the early 1990s. The United-Continental merger, however, has shown me just how painful and sticky combining two airlines can be. While I know it isn’t all “unicorns and rainbows” for the employee groups at the new United, it’s also incredibly frustrating on the passenger side.

If you haven’t experienced any pains from the merger, consider yourself lucky. From seat assignments suddenly dropping off reservations to upgrade prioritization being totally out of whack, take your pick of the many issues being reported on Flyertalk and MilePoint. A lot of it stems from the system migration to SHARES, the cheaper and oh so lackluster passenger service system. Add onto that (many) poorly trained employees who don’t know how to “GG” their way out of a problem when IRROPS hit, and you’ve got quite a mess.

The other side for travelers is getting used to the new policies, or rather combined policies management has decided to adopt. As a pre-merger United guy, the whole “tens of dollars” upgrade thing coming over from Continental is significantly affecting the amount of complimentary upgrades I used to enjoy. While the CO folks may be used to it, it’s harder for me to swallow.

So back to my worry about AA-US. American has impressed me lately with their drive to build loyalty among their newest status-matched elites. And even before that, American impressed the heck out of me when I decided to give them a go last year for the first time since 1998. Their telephone agents are probably the best in the industry, onboard service is stellar and the employees I’ve encountered (mostly) seem to enjoy their jobs.

I have to admit that I haven’t flown US Airways/US Air since 1993 (oddly, as a female, using my friend Janet’s ticket on a DTW-CLT-DAB trip… can’t believe I was successful, but that’s another story). While many laud Doug Parker as being the smartest airline CEO today in knowing how to run an airline, US Airways on the customer side doesn’t live up to anywhere near the same level of grandeur. I’m basing my opinion exclusively on what I hear from other frequent flyers, so feel free to flame me as you wish.

Combining these two airlines to me would seem way more challenging from a culture, policy and operational standpoint than the United-Continental merger. As such, I’m afraid the joyous time I’m having flying American right now will deteriorate worse than what I’ve experienced with COdbaUA. And so I wait.  I wait for my bubble to be burst yet again and fear the airline I’ve grown to love will be destroyed by the financial necessity in today’s airline industry to consolidate.

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  1. I share the same worries as you. As both AA and US elite flyer. This will de-value the elite perks for both sets of flyers. UA/CO flyers will attest to the shambles that is still unfolding for them.

  2. I’m probably in the minority of loyal US Airways travelers so I’ll be the voice of decent. I think US Air is getting better little by little. They’ve added 1st class to RJs. They’re replacing all cloth seats with leather seats which are pretty comfortable. Their new Envoy product can rival any business class product – even most international business class offerings.

    They do have downfalls – no in flight entertainment systems domestically – but doesn’t everyone have an “i” something these days? I don’t need to use the airlines entertainment system to watch a movie these days – besides, the remotes are covered in germs 🙂

    They still need to outfit more planes with wifi – but that’s in the works.

    The frequent flyer program has pluses and minuses. They certainly lack any other US based program with # of system wide upgrades they give Chairman. But they offer really great redemption options on other Star Alliance carriers and unlike some other *A carriers never hesitate to book awards on other carriers.

    It’s not a perfect airline, but give them a chance, a lot has changed – this isn’t the airline circa 1993.

    • @Stacey: Very valid points, especially the Star Alliance redemption options. I’ll remain firm that American is a far better airline. 😉

  3. Gotta say I can’t go along with Stacey @VeryGoodPoints views of USAir……my own experiences with them has been marginal to unacceptable.

    I hope AA ‘cuts the fat’ out of their unions, dumps the older aircraft and continues to provide the great service I have enjoyed with them over the years. A merger of these two carriers would be a huge loss to the travel public and a probably downgrade in my opinion.

  4. Darren, I read your blog all the time, you do a great job. However, I think you got this one wrong. You should have flown US to form your own opinion before this post. You do a great job putting your experiences out there for us.

    The line goes ” if I had a dollar for every time somebody told me that……”

    Anyway I say give US a try then beat them up on their service. They do a great job for me.

    • @EO: I definitely don’t have my own leg to stand on with first-hand experience with US, you’re absolutely correct. I do, however, trust some of the experiences from several frequent flyers. As you say, I’ll just have to experience them myself and will be better able to provide a better opinion.

  5. I fly yearly over 100k on both, and on US never encountered grumpy and lazy FA, or pilots wearing pins against the airline executives, it will be a great plus for a merger, and give flyers greater routes, weed off little flyers, and the real flyers to get real service.

  6. I fly from DFW to New Bern, NC a few times a year and unfortunately AA doesn’t fly there. And while the service on US isn’t bad, my experience has been that when things go wrong (delays, bad weather, or cancelled flights) their system kind of falls apart. AA, UA, and DL are all (from my experience) much better when things go wrong.

    After the last few times of being stuck in CLT because of bad weather, I’ve switched entirely to DL when flying to New Bern, even though I dread connecting through ATL.

    Maybe I’m biAAsed, but AA has the best frequent flyer program, takes good care of their elites, and provides consistently good service, especially when things go wrong. I really hope they stay independent.

    Besides, Admirals Clubs are nicer than US Airways clubs.

  7. I’ve been Premier Gold/Exec for the past few years, and around 90% of my flying is done on United, and I love it. The remaining 10% has been done on US Airways, and I don’t have a complaint. Sure, they don’t have economy plus, IFE (nor does United), wifi, or flights to Asia, but the service I have had has been great and the planes seem to be well kept.
    That being said, I do prefer United, and I will pay a United tax of around 10-20% extra to fly on United over US (and a bit more to fly UA/US over non * airlines).
    As a United elite, this whole American status match is a good thing because it means less competition for seats up front, but as a shareholder, I don’t like it. And I have to side with the shareholder side of myself and hope that US and AA merge so that AA won’t be nearly as generous and (unfortunate as a traveler) fares will go up and UA will have higher margins.

  8. I flew six segments on US last month – two international and four domestic, including two Express, all in Economy and all benefiting from Star Gold service, which was graciously recognised. I found they were all punctual, nothing was cancelled, the Clubs were good by US standards and the planes seemed modern and clean – all attributes which cannot be said of UA, my normal airline.

    However, there was absolutely nothing nice about the experience. No E+, absolutely bare bones service and incessant advertising were downers. It reminded me a little of EasyJet – perhaps not a bad comparison but certainly not one which a full service airline would want.

  9. I agree with you and have anticipated the same results for quite some time. However, it is very likely that all of the things you and others have come to enjoy about American is the very reason it’s gone under in a severe way. All of these perks and benefits are very costly and we can see that they’ve taken steps already with cutting back benefits and especially trying to preclude easily accessed elite perks, namely through credit cards. Also in regards to their employees, my Gf’s dad works at the counter for them in DfW and from what I can tell they have pretty valuable perks and quickly available after starting. Such as free travel including family members or significantly reduced even on other airlines. Also I’ve enjoyed some “buddy passes” which you give to one of your 12 named persons that can be updated at anytime. Also their regular “benefits” are not bad and having an AA employee in a family can add immense savings for a family. Like round trips to any city for free or just paying the secutiry fees with your minor child or spouse I am aware that such benefits are available on other airlines for their employees but from what I’ve gathered from other sources is that they’ve been significantly scaled back for both longtime employees and especially new ones that were hired post restructuring in the last decade. we must all recall that air travel changed ridiculously after 9/11 both security wise with extra hassles but the lost perks that everyone got after airlines went broke and restructured and merged. American was the last hold out and it’s come back with a vengeance.

    For disclosure I have an aadvantage account and have flown 3 international and 1 domestic flight with them in the last 18 months. I’m also about to post 2 50K mile bonuses for my parents, who are returning from Europe in 3 days also on American. I’ve also lost my entire $1200 investment in their stock and gained $700 on a $500 continental investment. My loss is obviously pale in comparison to many but it was significant for me as it was just 4 years ago that I made it and was in college and in med school now so every dollar is extra important now. billions of dollars were lost and billions more owed. everyone else has done away with basic “aadvantages”, pun intended, and offer less benefits for employees or retirees and they still sell tickets and people still fly and they make money. I last flew continental about 3 years ago And it was decent so I can’t speak for the new UA but it’s done well in cutting costs and at this point american has no choice really because they haven’t changed anything really and their protection will end and the judge will open up bidding if it doesn’t allow a merger sooner. I just hope aadvantage accounts don’t lose significant value because then all is lost.

  10. And with US, you can always look forward to that “very special offer on today’s flight”… The Barclay’s credit card, with 30,000 miles and bonus miles and flights around the world, and blah, blah, blah, blah. I HATE that advertisement announcement enough that it alone is enough to make you want to change airlines.

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