American Airlines and US Airways have agreed to a marketing alliance which initially combines their frequent flier programmes, while United Airlines and Delta Air Lines have followed with confirmation that they are discussing a global alliance.

The US Airways/American pact, which stops short of a major codeshare because of provisions in their respective pilot contracts, together with the pending Delta/ United deal, come in the wake of the alliance agreement between Northwest Airlines and Continental Airlines earlier this year.

It became known in early April that US Airways was back in talks with both American and United over possible alliances which would have stopped short of outright mergers.

Delta has now announced that it has been holding "extensive discussions" with United concerning a possible global alliance, including codesharing.

American and US Airways expect to link their frequent flier programmes by late summer. They have also agreed to allow reciprocal access to all airport club facilities, and the two carriers are working to finalise arrangements to co-operate in several other areas such as joint purchasing.

The airlines believe that codesharing will be beneficial, but they will have to win pilot union approvals, given restrictions in the labour contracts of both companies. American's pilots are represented by the Allied Pilots Association while the US Airways aircrew belong to the Air Line Pilots Association.

Codesharing among their respective regional affiliates, American Eagle and US Airways Express, is expected to be implemented shortly on certain flight segments, however.

Endorsement of a codeshare by the pilots is not assured. Earlier this year, US Airways and American dropped plans for codeshare services to Japan after US Airways' pilots refused to allow the codeshare flights. Their new contract allows codeshares with foreign air carriers, but prohibits similar deals with rival US airlines unless endorsed by the union.

Although US Airways had talked more than a year ago with American, hopes of a partnership had seemed to fade in the controversy over British Airways' switch of transatlantic partner. BA's agrement with American led US Airways to sue the UK air carrier for breach of contract.

US Airways has continued to be a vocal opponent of the BA/ American alliance and has fought to build its own transatlantic services. It has now indefinitely postponed plans to serve London Gatwick from its Charlotte, North Carolina, hub, alleging "unlawful" behaviour by the UK in refusing to grant landing rights.

Source: Flight International