Mergers everywhere

We fret when big changes in the travel industry are announced that could have effects on our visitor industry.

The news this week that the Justice Department has reached a deal to allow the merger of American Airlines and US Airways to proceed is just such a change. The merger will create the world’s biggest airline.

Currently, both airlines serve Maui with gateway cities from the Mainland, including Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles and Phoenix. There are convenient connections from those cities to the rest of the Mainland.

In plain and simple English, the current route maps of American and US Airways make it very easy for travelers to get to Maui. Any alteration, cutback or fare increases that result from the merger will make it harder for visitors to get here.

The terms the Justice Department imposed on the airlines for the merger approval dealt mostly with giving up landing slots at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., and LaGuardia Airport in New York City. The airlines also agreed to keep all their hub cities for at least five years.

There is no mention of keeping current route maps. One has to assume a big reason for the merger is to get rid of excess capacity, and planners will be trying to maximize efficiency by filling every seat on every route. That may well mean channeling customers through one or two gateways. Elimination of a gateway means one less convenient nonstop flight from/to a major city.

Ah, well, there are competing interests at work here. The airlines want to fly planes that are filled to capacity, we want to make it as easy as possible for visitors to get to Maui.

And also, of course, if any of the newly merged airlines (United, Delta, American) miscalculate and chop off a popular nonstop route, one of the smaller, aggressive airlines (Alaska, Virgin or Southwest) may step in and fill the void.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.