Airline merger could be a bumpy ride for passengers

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by JONATHAN BETZ

WFAA

Posted on February 13, 2013 at 11:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 13 at 11:58 PM

PHOENIX — With two of the country's largest airlines airlines now poised to become a single carrier, flights in the future will be changing.

Passengers aren't sure what to expect, but many are preparing for a bumpy landing.

For the most part, the only airline Debbie Pirone has known is US Airways.

"I've never flown American Airlines," she said. "Never... never."

But soon enough, she will.

The merger of American and US Airways brings a new reality for travelers, from websites to frequent flier programs.

That's especially concerning for Pirone, since she flies every week out of Phoenix.

"If I can't use my points on a US Airways flight, I can use it on a United flight."

But those are options she could be losing in the months ahead. Analysts expect miles from her current frequent flier program — Star Alliance — will be transferred into American's OneWorld program.

But American only has 11 airline partners in OneWorld; US Airways has 26 in Star Alliance.

Plus, analysts worry that American's program could be flooded with new elite fliers, making it harder for infrequent travelers to upgrade seats or cash in miles for tickets.

Different fees now charged by American and US Airways must be settled — from pillows (which are free on American) to food (which is cheaper on US Airways).

"You're going to be paying more, in general, for your airline tickets," said airline analyst Rick Seany.

Already, differences can be stark. We booked a last-minute flight Wednesday from D/FW Airport to Phoenix. American offered a seat as low as $511, but the price at US Airways was more than triple — $1,756.

We ended up on Southwest Airlines, which charged $230.

Kris Harmon prefers to fly Southwest, and that may be the key to keeping ticket prices for North Texas passengers in check.

"I like Southwest," Harmon said. "The loading, ease of changing tickets... seems just easy."

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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