The airline industry took a decisive step toward greater concentration on Thursday with the announcement that American Airlines and US Airways had agreed to merge, forming the nation’s biggest airline. The merged airline, to be called American, leaves just three major carriers — Delta Air Lines and United Airlines too — able to offer extensive domestic and international service, a sharp contraction over the last decade.
But while airline executives argue that mergers are good for passengers because they bring more service to more destinations, some economists and consumer advocates warn that all this consolidation comes at a price for travelers.
With fewer carriers, passengers have fewer options; fares and fees are now more likely to go up, particularly for flights between midsize cities. And more cities, especially smaller ones, can expect to see further reductions in service.
“It’s much easier to have tacit collusion with just three airlines,” said George Hoffer, a transportation economist at the University of Richmond. “It’s not illegal. But it’s like having a few big people in a small boat. Anyone’s decisions tie you all together.”