The $11 billion merger of American Airlines and US Airways likely won’t bring major changes at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and any changes the combination requires are likely months away.
The supersized deal, officially announced Thursday, will create the world’s largest airline with some 6,700 flights daily to 356 destinations and with operating revenues of nearly $39 billion.
American and US Airways combined now offer 22 daily nonstop flights from Sea-Tac to seven different cities, all of them hubs in the two airlines’ route structures. None of those routes overlap between the two carriers, so a merger is unlikely to trigger any immediate flight reductions to cut redundancies.
Sea-Tac spokesman Perry Cooper said physical changes at the airport could take as long as 18 to 24 months as the two airlines gradually meld their operations, computer systems and workforces. It’s taken that long for several recent major mergers.
While the boards of both carriers have approved the combination, federal officials must give their approval before the merger can move forward.
That process may take eight months to a year, the airlines said.
Joining American’s and US Airways’ operations will likely require alterations to the airport’s recently approved realignment plan.
Under that plan, American has already moved its ticket counter northward in the airport terminal. US Airways’ counter is south of that new location.
Eventually, as the two carriers merge their computer systems, the two carriers will consolidate their ticket counter under the American name, the surviving carrier in the merger.
Likewise, said Cooper, the merging airlines will want to consolidate their gates in one location. American is set to move its gates to the airport’s D Concourse in May when Alaska Airlines moves its operations there to the North Satellite Terminal. US Airways had planned to stay on the A Concourse.
“They may ask for more gates on the D Concourse,” said Cooper. “Or they may want to lease some of the common use gates.”
The airport, which formerly assigned most of its gates to specific airlines, now is designating more of those gates as common user gates which can be used by several airlines during the course of a day.
One of the benefits of the American-US Airways merger is that the two have route structures with few overlapping routes or hub cities. US Airways, formed by combining U.S. Air and America West in 2005, is strong in the Southeast and Southwest. American is dominant in the nation’s midsection and in Miami.
Industry observers expect federal regulators may require only that the two airlines give up some of their slots at one airport, Washington D.C.’s Reagan National where US Airways has a strong presence.
At Sea-Tac, the two carry 7.3 percent of passenger traffic. Combined they would be the fifth largest carrier at Sea-Tac after Alaska, Delta, United and Southwest. Alaska and its sister carrier, Horizon, have 50.3 percent of Sea-Tac’s business.
On most nonstop routes the two fly from Sea-Tac the two already face competition. On the Chicago route where American operates four daily flights, it competes with United, Alaska and Southwest. On the Dallas route, American flies 7 daily flights. Alaska competes with it there.
To New York, American flies against Alaska, United, Delta and JetBlue. To Philadelphia, where US Airways has a hub, Alaska competes. On the Phoenix route, Southwest and Alaska rival US Airways. Only on US Airways’ two daily flights to Charlotte and American’s single daily flight to Miami are they without a rival. Alaska, which formerly flew to Miami from Sea-Tac, now flies to nearby Fort Lauderdale.
Industry experts are divided in their predictions about what the merger will do to airline fares. Some say the competition from the other big carriers will keep prices in check, but others predict that fewer airlines will mean higher fares.
Together, if the merger is approved, the four largest carriers, American, United, Delta and Southwest, will handle 86 percent of the nation’s air traffic.
In the last few decades, such once-major carriers as PanAm, Western, Eastern and TWA have disappeared. Since 2005, US Air and America West have combined to form US Airways. Delta absorbed Northwest. United merged with Continental and Southwest bought Air Tran.John Gillie: 253-597-8663 john.gillie@ thenewstribune.com