American-U.S. Airways merger may benefit Cedar Rapids

Service disruptions not expected at Eastern Iowa Airport

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The proposed $11 billion merger of American Airlines and U.S. Airways could mean additional flights for The Eastern Iowa Airport, but it will be months before any changes will be announced.

American, through its American Eagle subsidiary, serves Cedar Rapids with non-stop flights to Chicago and Dallas-Fort Worth. American Eagle filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy along with its corporate parent and will need court approval for the planned merger.

U.S. Airways offered direct flights to Kansas City for many years, but the service was terminated in March 2002 due to a sharp drop in passenger traffic.  The airline also launched twice-weekly direct flights between Cedar Rapids and Pittsburgh in August 2001, but ended the service in 2003, citing the need to allocate its aircraft to other routes.

Tim Bradshaw, director of The Eastern Iowa Airport, said the two airlines will continue to operate separately, pending bankruptcy court and federal regulatory approval of the proposed merger. Passengers on American Eagle should not experience any changes.

"The fact that American and U.S. Airways have very few overlapping routes is a positive for us because we should not lose any service," Bradshaw said. "We actually could see service open up to some cities on the East Coast (such as Charlotte, N.C., and Philadelphia).

"We've actually talked with U.S. Airways for a number of months about service to Phoenix, which is a strong market for us. One of their (regional) providers, SkyWest, was interested in serving that route.

"We have direct flights to Phoenix/Mesa on Allegiant, but this would involve service to Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport."

A merger of American and U.S. Airways would create the largest airline in the world in terms of the number of daily flights. The combined airline, which will keep the American Airlines name, will offer more than 6,700 daily flights to 336 destinations in 56 countries.

Under the terms of the merger agreement, US Airways shareholders would own 28 percent of the combined airline, while American Airlines shareholders, creditors, labor unions and employees would own 72 percent.

The combined airline will have more than 100 million frequent fliers. After the merger is approved, the two airlines will likely combine the miles into a single program and elite status from one airline will likely be honored on the other.

US Airways passengers will gain access to American's international destinations, particularly London and Latin America. American's passengers will have better connections to smaller U.S. cities that US Airways serves.

Bradshaw noted that the merger of United Airlines and Continental led to an average 5 percent increase in air fares. It also led to  twice-daily nonstop flights between Cedar Rapids and Houston in May 2011, but the airlines have announced plans to end service on April 8.

While it's unknown how the American-U.S. Airways merger will affect the price of air travel, the price of a domestic round-trip flight has climbed about 11 percent since 2009, when adjusted for inflation, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

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