Charlotte travelers are curious, almost eager, to find out what the soon-to-be largest airline in the world has in store for the city. Employees of both companies are equally excited and recently expressed their positive sentiments about the combined carrier at a media event near the airline’s headquarters of Tempe, Arizona in late April.
While details will emerge slowly as the weeks and months unfold, one thing is for sure: change is coming. It may not all be good news for everyone.
Some cities may lose frequencies on certain routes, but management has promised that all cities in both carriers’ existing route networks will remain in the company’s combined flight map.
Combining an airline is a difficult task. To navigate this evolution, both airlines have formed a joint Integration Management Office. Decisions as small as what brand of coffee will be served on board are not taken lightly. The coffee choice is a great example. US Airways just unveiled plans to offer a new, flavorful blend from Freshbrew on its flights.
In addition, US Airways is unveiling new amenity kits featuring Red Flower toiletries in its Envoy (business) class cabins this summer. Both of these choices will return to the discussion table in the upcoming merger. For now, both airlines offer their own choice of coffee and personalized amenity kits with different toiletry brands.
Switching immediately is a difficult task since months of planning go into deciding what brands to use and procuring specified amounts at the appropriate cost. A set timeline for other features of the “new American” have been revealed though. A target closing date for the merger between the two carriers is expected in the third quarter of 2013.
From that moment forward, the combined airline will have more than 110,000 employees handling 6,700 daily flights to 336 destinations in 56 countries. This will all be handled by a staggering fleet size of 1,511.
Immediately upon closure of the merger, new signage will be put in place identifying that the two carriers are now one, but will still operate as two separate airlines for the short term. Employees will also be trained to understand the features of the other airline and where its gates, lounges, and baggage claims are in airports served by both.
Shortly thereafter, customers will begin to have the ability to book flights on either carrier within the same itinerary via online sales tools. Within the first six months, US Airways and American will begin swapping aircraft onto different routes so as to maximize the size of planes between certain destinations. Customers traveling from Charlotte may see more of American’s MD-80 or Boeing 737-800 planes pulling up to Douglas International gates.
On board, harmonization of inflight products such as beverages and snacks will begin. For example, American serves Dr. Pepper and Diet Dr. Pepper; US Airways does not. The decision will come soon as to what will stay.
Also within the first six months, customers will be able to earn and redeem miles on either carrier. US Airways will be leaving the Star Alliance in favor of joining oneworld, but this will not be completed until 2014.
Creating a single website and combining employee functions and reservation systems will take longer. This is often where the opportunity for bungling can occur as evidenced between the merger of United and Continental where customers experienced weeks of delayed flights and operational breakdowns due to the junction between reservation systems.
Charlotte may see some routes disappear, however, they may be replaced by others. It all depends on how the hubs of the “new American” are optimized. The flow of passengers between cities with nonstop flights to Charlotte affects which other routes can be served profitably.
One thing is for sure: Charlotte will remain an important, and perhaps one of the busiest, hubs in the combined carrier’s network. And that’s good news for the entire region.