With the US Airways – American Airlines merger, expected to close shortly, there are basically three risks for customers:
- Integrations never go as well as hoped. Training employees on new systems is hard, even when you get the IT right. People are grumpy. They take it out on customers. This is a challenge for any airline merger, and a key reason why many business travelers don’t like mergers – period.
- US Airways members lose out on generous awards. US Airways is a member of the Star Alliance which means more flight options to Europe and Asia than oneworld, which it will be joining with the merger. There are some great values in the US Airways award chart, like 90,000 miles from the US to North Asia. US Airways agents are generally clueless and their IT systems bad which frequently results in mistakes in the customers’ favor. These ‘quirks’ will most certainly be erased once the two mileage programs combine.
- American members lose their better premium product. American actually serves meals up front, and across the board provides a more full-service experience than US Airways. The expectation has been that US Airways management would impost cost cuts and diminish the flying experience that American’s elite customers are used to.
We can probably expect the combined airline to use the American IT platform, which means that things won’t go as badly as the systems integration did between US Airways and America West, or between United and Continental. Still, there will no doubt be challenges.
And while there are pluses and minuses to both frequent flyer programs, and some of the preferred features of each may get harmonized away as part of the merger, there’s also real value in the American AAdvantage program inf act I value my American miles more highly than my US Airways miles.
What we learned in a new interview today, though, is at least at the outset US Airways is paying real attention to the importance of the American Airlines premium product.
I’ve been beating the drum on this for a year.
I declared back in February that US Airways elites are hungry. They don’t get fed in first class on a 3 hour flight.
When the CEOs of US Airways and American sat down to pitch the merger to the New York Times, I had 9 quotes in the ensuing piece and pointed out that CEO-to-be of the joint airline Doug Parker has traditionally believed that all that matters is being an on-time airline and thus the importance of actual service might be diminished.
Focusing on good value and good service was one of my key points in a USA Today op-ed a couple of weeks ago.
Fortunately, Frequent Business Traveler interviewed Scott Kirby who will be President of the combined airline and others, and reports that:
- “The merged airline will use the current American product as its template and, as a result, the current US Airways product will be greatly enhanced to ensure uniformity across both airlines until they are merged under one operating certificate.”
- US Airways will leave Star Alliance “seven to nine weeks after” January 7.
- “On April 1, US Airways will adopt American’s meal windows and catering”
- “[O]n September 1, the US Airways soft product (i.e. in-flight service) will mirror American’s.
- By September 1, “new aircraft being delivered to US Airways will have the new AA interiors.”
If these decisions hold — beyond a merger honeymoon period — then they’re real wins for frequent flyers and could go a long way towards reducing anxiety over the combination. I remain skeptical, the temptation to cut costs short-sightedly is great. But so far they seem to be saying the right things.