ANALYSIS: Is US Airways building its American connections?

Washington DC
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US Airways has loaded new flights to American Airlines' Miami and New York John F. Kennedy (JFK) hubs in global distributions systems, conveniently timed to begin shortly after the carriers' proposed merger is set to close.

The Tempe, Arizona-based carrier will launch a fourth daily nonstop between Phoenix and JFK on a 150-seat Airbus A320 on 3 October, and then will re-enter the Phoenix-Miami market with one daily flight on an A320 a little more than three weeks later on 27 October.

Doug Parker, chairman and chief executive of US Airways and future chief executive of American once the deal closes, said that the airlines continue to anticipate closing the deal in late September subject to US Department of Justice (DOJ) antitrust approval, during a shareholders meeting on 12 July.

Shareholders of the airline overwhelmingly approved the deal, with more than 99% of the votes cast in favour, at the same meeting.

US Airways declines to comment on the new routes.

Both routes make sense. Miami and JFK are two of American's largest international gateways, the former to Latin America and the latter to Europe, while US Airways' Phoenix hub is largely a domestic hub with a network concentrated in the western USA. Increased flows between the hubs once the merger closes and the airlines begin codesharing will undoubtedly increase.

However, the route announcements are a bit unprecedented ahead of DOJ approval.

Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways, United Airlines and Continental Airlines, nor Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines announced any new flights or routes connecting their respective hubs from the time they announced the deals to when they received antitrust approval.

Codesharing is the one exception - something that US Airways and American are not doing. United and Continental expanded their existing codeshare to include their respective flights to Argentina in August 2010 and the latter's flights to Brazil in June 2010. They announced their plan to merge on 2 May 2010 and received DOJ approval on 27 August 2010.

Delta and Northwest also expanded their existing codeshare to cover all of their respective flights between Japan and the USA in August 2008. They announced their merger on 14 April 2008 and received DOJ approval on 29 October 2008.

It should also be noted that United-Continental and Delta-Northwest all operated flights between their respective hubs, with the possible exception of United service to Cleveland from its Los Angeles and San Francisco hubs.

Southwest and AirTran are slightly unique in that single itineraries for a trip with flights on both carriers did not become possible until this past March - nearly two years after their merger received DOJ approval in April 2011.

"[It] does seem like an 'early trigger pull' on combined network [and] scheduling, but with some risk, because it would be without codeshare support," says Robert Mann, a New York-based airline industry analyst with RW Mann & Company, on US Airways' new flights.

Robert Isom, chief operating officer at US Airways and a joint leader of the airlines' merger integration office, said at a media event in April that codesharing between American and US Airways would begin during the "post-close" period, which is understood to be no more than the first three months after the deal closes.

The start-up dates for new flights between Phoenix and both Miami and JFK would coincide with this post-close period, if the deal closes as expected at the end of September.

While US Airways' intentions look clear and make sense from a post-merger perspective, one thing is clear - they cannot coordinate the new flights with American. Any discussion regarding operational issues is barred under antitrust law until they receive DOJ approval.