Earlier this year, the major carriers announced plans to market flights and services jointly, unite routes and enter new markets. While a timetable has not been set for implementation and terms of these marketing alliances await government approval, the following alliances are in the works: United and Delta, American and USAirways, and Northwest and Continental. Carriers claim this will result in improved service, more direct flights and increased choice of flights through the combined routes. United, for example, will serve 39 new cities, offering 2,528 new daily nonstop flights.
Consumers won’t see many immediate changes except for code sharing, which means that the airlines will be able to sell seats on each other’s flights and link routes. If, for example, you’re flying on Delta from Los Angeles to New York with a stopover in Atlanta, the second leg may be on United. By late this summer, USAirways will start code sharing its express flights with American Eagle. Frequent fliers will be able to earn miles on both.
Consumer groups, however, say these agreements will result in increased fares. “It’s quite dear we will lose competition, and that means prices will go up,” says Mark Cooper, director of research at the Consumer Federation of America. This will also make it harder for small airlines to compete, he says. The Department of Transportation is currently examining whether these agreements break anti-trust laws.