Tourism: Airline merger could benefit territory
Published: February 15, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - It still is too early to know how the merger between US Airways and American Airlines might impact the territory, but local officials hope it will be positive.
Thursday, the two airlines announced plans for an $11 billion merger to save American Airlines from bankruptcy.
US Airways Chief Executive Officer Doug Parker eventually will take the helm of the new company, but it will operate under the American Airlines name.
So what does that mean for flights into the territory?
"I think the merger is so new that we can't anticipate all the changes that will occur, but for the time being we don't anticipate any changes in the routes to the Virgin Islands," V.I. Tourism spokeswoman Allegra Kean-Moorehead said.
The biggest change that will happen soon - it was planned before the merger - is that American Eagle will shut down all operations out of San Juan on March 31.
Kean-Moorehead said a number of the territory's carriers, including Cape Air, Seaborne Airlines and Jet Blue, are poised to step in and take over most of the American Eagle routes between San Juan and the territory, resulting in very little change in airlift to the islands.
Currently, American Airlines and US Airways make up about 40 percent of the total number of seats coming into the Virgin Islands.
US Airways has three routes that fly 11 flights to the territory per week. The largest plane comes in seven times during the week, bringing 1,316 passengers.
American Airlines has two major routes, one from Miami and one from New York. The Miami flight comes in 21 times per week bringing 3,948 passengers. The New York flight comes in seven times a week, bringing 1,316 passengers.
Kean-Moorehead said the merger gives the territory assurances that flights will continue to arrive on the territory's shores.
"We think the merger will make the airline stronger in the long run, and that's positive for the destination," she said.
A recent report by the V.I. Port Authority's aviation consultants found healthy growth in the number of flights to the territory.
In Fiscal Year 2012, which ended Sept. 30, overall air traffic was up by almost double digits - 9.9 percent - over the previous year, according to the report. The report projected further growth in the coming year.
"The outlook for this year is very good," Kean-Moorehead said.
The merger between US Airways and American Airlines is very good news for Seaborne Airlines, which is launching a new partnership with American by the end of the week.
Seaborne Airlines Chief Executive Officer Omer ErSelcuk said Seaborne will be an "inter-line carrier" for American Airlines, allowing the local airline to tap into a global distribution system that will allow customers to book seats on Seaborne through websites such as Travelocity and Expedia and through about 55,000 travel agencies nationwide.
Customers will be able to purchase a ticket from the territory to anywhere American Airlines flies, and Seaborne will handle the first leg of the trip. Baggage will only be checked once, and because of the agreement with American, it automatically will be transferred to the next flight.
ErSelcuk said the new merged airline will be better for consumers.
"The merger is a very good thing because any time you have two carriers come together, what you get is pricing rationality in the business," he said. "And they continue to invest in the product, so you get a safer, more reliable product."
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carrier Destination from Flights per week No. of seats
American Airlines Miami 21 3,948
American Airlines New York 7 1,316
US Airways Charlotte 7 1,316
US Airways Philadelphia 2 376
*USAirways Charlotte 2 376 Delta Airlines Atlanta 8 1,464
United Airlines Newark 12 1,488
United Airlines Dulles 9 1,116
United Airlines Chicago 3 372
Spirit Airlines Ft. Lauderdale 7 910
JetBlue Boston 7 882
JetBlue San Juan 14 1,400
American Eagle San Juan 21 1,512
Cape Air San Juan 56 392
**Seaborne Airlines San Juan 42 1,190 *Sun Country Minneapolis/St. Paul 1 188 TOTAL 2012-2013 18,246
TOTAL 2011-2012 17,989
**Effective March 1