If the airlines should merge

US Airways, American Airlines deal could be done smoothly at McCarran airport

Richard N. Velotta

Richard N. Velotta

US Airways, which wants to merge with American Airlines to create the world’s largest air carrier, was set to close the deal by the end of the year and start integrating the companies when the Justice Department stepped in.

Saying that the merger would reduce competition and increase airfares, the Justice Department asked for a March trial date to present its case. But the judge sided with the airlines and plans to hear the case in November, just after Thanksgiving.

Regardless of when the case is heard, McCarran International Airport is ready for a merger should it happen. It is expected to have a minimal impact on Las Vegas operations.

Most US Airways and American flights are nonstop to hub airports. That means there’s no crossover among routes, so if the two airlines become one, it’s likely American would fly under US Airways management and serve nine cities with about 45 daily flights to and from McCarran.

In July, US Airways shifted from McCarran’s B gates to D gates where American passengers depart. US Airways also has prime ticket counter real estate in Terminal 1, where American would be sure to relocate.

Would the merger result in higher airfares?

Airline executives say no, because the company still would need to compete with two other megacarriers, United and Delta. The Justice Department disagrees.

Some Las Vegans aren’t fond of either US Airways or American because of their local track records.

US Airways once was America West and operated a major night hub at McCarran that kept the airport busy during off hours. When fuel prices spiked in the early 2000s, America West discontinued flights and the night hub disappeared.

American, meanwhile, acquired Reno Air in 1999 and promised to continue to fly to and from Reno-Tahoe International Airport. But it quickly scrapped most of those routes and closed a reservation center in Reno.

So here are a few suggestions for executives to consider if a merger does take place:

• Locate all the megacarrier ticket counters at Terminal 3. United already is there. Move Delta and American nearby.

• Keep JetBlue and Virgin America in Terminal 3. Both offer long hauls to New York and Boston.

• Move Frontier to Terminal 1. Move Alaska Airlines and Sun Country there, too.

• Shift Allegiant’s departures to the B gates. That way, deep discounters Allegiant, Spirit and Frontier can dominate the B area.

• Leave Southwest alone. It’s comfortable at the southern end of the ticket counters and dominates the recently remodeled C gates.

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