Bad News for Air Travelers
“It’s a done deal”. That’s what the business world has been told today, American Airlines and U.S. Airways have completed their merger.
It’s good news for them, they will save millions of dollars, but it’s bad news for their customers. Although there may be a “honeymoon” period when the new airline, still named American Airlines, will offer great ‘deals’, but once that is over, changes will be made. There will be fewer flights and fewer seats available, allowing fares and baggage fees to be raised.
American has been in bankruptcy proceedings since November 2011. Management used the financial move to force pilots to accept an unfavorable contract. Pilots began calling in sick, and refused to fly until all maintenance issues were repaired, not matter how trivial. The pilots combined with the other two unions were instrumental in the merger. American had indicated they wished to remain independent, but that choice was not realistic.
This merger will make American Airlines the largest in the world. The ‘major players in the industry will be reduced to only four; American, Delta, Continental and Southwest. The consolidation has meant fewer choices for the nation’s fliers, who have only one non-stop choice available to them on about a third of the nation’s major routes.
I went to work for an airline at Los Angeles International Airport, (LAX), before my 21st birthday. The year was 1967, and the airline was “Bonanza Airlines”. It was fun. We were a small airline serving four western states, our busiest route being Las Vegas, Nevada. We had a fleet of mostly F-27 turbo props, holding 40 passengers, and 3 DC-9’s carrying just over 100 each. We didn’t have time clocks, we simply signed in and out.
Management wanted to grow the company. They decided the best way was to merge with two other airlines operating in areas adjacent to Bonanza’s routes. The two others were Pacific Airlines, and West Coast Airlines. One commonality for all three was the F-27 aircraft, sort of. The turbo props operated by West Coast were fitted for the northwest environment in which they flew. The engines lacked enough power to fly in the south where the air was much warmer, such as Las Vegas. Pacific had two Boeing 727’s in its fleet. They carried only 30% more passengers than the DC-9’s, but required almost twice as much fuel for its larger three engines.
The newly named “Air West” had many delays, and raised fares. Bonanza rarely experienced weather delays, thanks to our limited operating area. Operating in snowy conditions in the northern areas created more problems with late flights.
Employees were unhappy, and customer service declined in quality. We had to “punch a time clock”. We had to join a union. Employees with more seniority, acquired during their tenure with a previous airline, transferred into Los Angeles and took promotions agents were hoping to receive.
Air West didn’t exist for a long period of time, partly because of disputes within management, and partly because of declining revenue. They eventually sold to Howard Hughes, and became “Hughes Air West”. It was a short term investment for him, and he sold it to Republic.
As a whole, the airline industry deteriorated rapidly when government controls were lifted. The idea was to create competition, with the benefit going to the passenger. It failed miserably. Fares to smaller cities doubled. Airlines began to lose money as an industry, thanks to poor decisions by management, and fares were increased across the board. Now travelers are forced to pay for their baggage.
With 4 airlines carrying 83% of the traveling public, competition is disappearing once again.
My advice? Take the train, if you can. I have, and even though it takes longer, it’s more fun. If AmTrak had routes to more places, and better schedules, I would never fly again.
Columnist-The Guardian Express