NEW YORK -- American Airlines and US Airways have cleared the last major hurdle to merging, but it will be several months -- if not years -- before passengers see any significant impact.
Passengers with existing tickets on American or US Airways -- and members of both frequent flier programs -- shouldn't fret. No changes will come immediately.
Since announcing the deal in February, the two airlines have been working to make the merger as seamless as possible. Following Tuesday's agreement with the Justice Department, the two airlines said they expect the deal to close in December.
A US-American merger could be a boom and bust for Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
Airport officials have talked with the airlines about expanded service to open markets to the West Coast and Latin America.
"Hopefully this will lead to expanded service with service both to D/FW and to Miami," said Frederick "Rick" Piccolo, president and chief executive officer of SRQ airport.
The Dallas-Fort Worth connection would enable Sarasota to connect to a ma
jor Western hub, allowing more connecting flights to Los Angeles, Denver and Seattle, where Miami would offer options for South American travelers.
"It has potential positive impacts to the airport," Piccolo said by phone from Montreal, where he is performing duties as chairman for the Airports Council International World Governing Board.
The new airline formed by U.S. Air and American will have to give up 104 takeoff and landing spots at Washington's Reagan International Airport, which U.S. Airways serves nonstop from Sarasota. Piccolo hopes either that service stays or is turned over to another airline serving SRQ.
The process of awarding and determining slots remains to be seen, he said.
"Let's say they gave some to JetBlue. JetBlue serves us, and we would want them to serve that route. Our hope is to protect what we have," Piccolo said. "However, if they give it to an airline we don't currently serve like Southwest or Virgin, we could lose that service."
No immediate effects are expected either way. If new service is added to the airport, it would be likely added during winter months for Sarasota's heavier travel season.
"Anything that's going to be planned, won't be started until next fall, so we have plenty of time for pitches and to meet with them," Piccolo said.
When the deal does close, here's what passengers can expect:
During the past five years, the airline industry has seen combinations of Delta with Northwest, United with Continental and Southwest Airlines Co. with AirTran. The price of a domestic round-trip flight has climbed more than 15 percent since 2009, when adjusted for inflation, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
The merger will give a combined American and US Airways Group Inc. the ability to increase fares. United, Delta and Southwest would likely follow. It could also pave the way for expansion by discount airlines such as Spirit Airlines Inc. and Allegiant Travel Co.
FREQUENT FLIER MILES
Your miles will be safe. After the merger closes, the two airlines will likely combine the miles into one program and elite status from one airline will likely be honored on the other. That puts the occasional traveler closer to rewards.
The merged carrier will continue American's participation in the OneWorld alliance founded by American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Qantas. Today, it has 13 airlines including Finnair, Royal Jordanian and Japan Airlines. US Airways will leave the Star Alliance, which includes rival United Airlines, Lufthansa, Air Canada and 24 other airlines. Alliances allow passengers to earn and redeem miles on partner airlines.
A key reason for merging is to link the airline networks creating a system on par with Delta Air Lines and United, part of United Continental Holdings Inc.
There is little overlap between the two airlines' existing routes. The combined carrier will offer more than 6,700 daily flights to 336 destinations in 56 countries, making it more attractive to companies seeking to fly employees around the globe with few connections.
US Airways passengers will gain access to American's international destinations, particularly London and Latin America. American's passengers will be able to better connect to smaller U.S. cities served by US Airways.
The combined carrier will have considerable presence in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Charlotte, N.C., Miami, Chicago, Dallas, Phoenix and Los Angeles. It is unclear how many cities will keep their present levels of service. In past mergers, airlines have promised not to close hubs but have dramatically reduced service in once-key cities.
The merger of two airlines often means confusion and hassle for customers. Which terminal or ticket counter do they go to for check in? If there is a problem with a ticket, which company should they call? For a while, United and Continental were issuing two confirmation numbers for each ticket so either airline's staff could make changes. Problems with the integration of their frequent flier programs angered many loyal road warriors and computer glitches caused repeated flight delays. It could be months, if not years, until all American and US Airways planes get a uniform paint job.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, contributed to this report.