With American Airlines and US Airways merging Monday to form the world’s largest airline, the best advice for travelers may be to simply carry on.
Many changes are coming in months ahead. But for travelers, the differences will likely be subtle for a few months.
That should be good news during this holiday season, when the usual hustle and bustle experienced by frequent fliers is amplified by the presence of less experienced — and often stressed-out — leisure travelers.
For now, American, its partner American Eagle and US Airways will operate separately — although behind the scenes they’ll be under the same corporate umbrella, based in Fort Worth, Texas.
But travelers can expect gradual changes, beginning with the installation of a code-sharing system to coordinate bookings on either airline and integration of frequent-flier programs.
Overall, the merger will take an estimated 18 to 24 months to complete.
Here are some answers to commonly asked questions, based on responses from American officials and air travel industry experts:
QUESTION: I have flights booked on US Airways for the holidays. Will my flights change?
ANSWER: No. Travelers can expect to proceed with their scheduled itineraries. Though the US Airways brand will gradually be folded into the American motif, customers will see no changes at airport terminals until after the holidays. And even then, the changes are expected to be rolled out gradually. If you bought a ticket to fly US Airways through the new year, you can expect to board a plane sporting the US Airways logo and operated by a crew wearing US Airways uniforms.
Q: How will the merger affect flights?
A: During the coming months, one key difference at many airports may be fewer delays at the new American Airlines, which will be run by US Airways management, one industry observer said.
“One thing that should greatly improve is operations performance,” said Brett Snyder, founder of the travel website CrankyFlier.com. “US Airways is very good at running an on-time airline. It should be a dramatic improvement in quality, reliability and even safety.”
Q: How long will US Airways operate under that name?
A: Probably until 2015. It’s expected to take up to two years for the airlines to merge completely. Many details large and small remain to be resolved.
Q: When can I use my American Airlines frequent-flier miles to buy a flight on US Airways?
A: Perhaps as soon as January. Merging the two frequent-flier programs is expected to be one of the first orders of business at the new year, and an announcement with details on how it will be accomplished could come as soon as Jan. 7.
Q: When will they have all the planes repainted with the American colors? Will they keep the new plane livery design that American has started to implement?
A: American began painting its fleet with the new logo before the merger. Traditionally, American was known for its polished aluminum, rather than painted planes. But in an effort to replace its fleet with newer, lighter aircraft, American is switching to planes made of lighter-weight composite materials — and the exteriors of those planes need to be painted. So the airline’s traditional polished aluminum livery is being replaced with planes painted red, white and blue with shiny silver flakes.
But US Airways officials who will take over management of the new American Airlines haven’t committed to sticking with American’s livery, fueling speculation that another new logo design is quietly in the works.
Q: Will fares go up?
A: There is no way to accurately predict fares, which are affected by factors including competition, consumer habits and fuel prices. Critics say it’s a no-brainer that fares will increase.