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Consumer advocates still fighting US Airways/American merger

US Airways and American Airlines closed their merger in December, but some consumer advocates are still fighting the combination, which they claim will drive up airfare and lead to cuts in service.

The American Antitrust Institute, along with several other airline passenger advocates, recently filed a brief outlining the reasons it says the merger is bad for travelers. Diana Moss, the group’s vice president, said higher prices and cuts to service will accumulate over time.

“For the fare increases, the capacity cutbacks, dumping service on particular routes – that takes a little more time,” she said. “It’s going to be months, not weeks.”

The Justice Department sought last year to block the merger, which created the world’s largest airline and reduced the number of major domestic carriers to four. But federal antitrust prosecutors dropped their opposition to the deal after American and US Airways agreed to give up dozens of flights at Washington’s Reagan National and New York’s LaGuardia airports.

Under federal law, opponents of a merger have 60 days to file objections to a merger settlement. A judge is then required to take those into account before giving a settlement final approval.

Moss said her group knows there’s little to no chance of reversing the merger or extracting more concessions now, but she said it’s still important to get its opposition on record.

“We don’t have blinders on. We know what the process is and what the chances are,” she said.

The American Antitrust Institute said the travel market between Dallas/Fort Worth and Charlotte – American’s two biggest hubs – will be one group that is particularly hard-hit.

“On one route alone (between Charlotte and Dallas/Fort Worth), the (Justice) Department predicted that consumers would likely pay more than $3 million more per year for travel,” the group wrote in its complaint. Other routes where American and US Airways used to compete with nonstop service will likely see major effects as well, according to the group.

American Airlines, which operates more than 90 percent of daily flights at Charlotte Douglas, said consumers will benefit from the merger.

“The merger between American and US Airways has widespread support, and we have already begun to deliver on the substantial customer benefits that were created by putting together two complementary networks. We remain confident that the court will approve our settlement,” Davien Anderson said in a statement.

American executives have said they plan to increase flights from Charlotte from around 650 now to possibly more than 700 in the coming years. They also plan to add more flights to midsize destinations in the Midwest where US Airways did not previously fly.

Portillo: 704-358-5041; Twitter: @ESPortillo
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