Airline Survival Plan: Crazy Fees, Merger Madness

But when it comes to a United-US Airways match, there are a couple of areas that may be problematic, including in the nation's capital: United is big at Washington Dulles Airport, whereas US Airways is entrenched at nearby Reagan National (with Baltimore also in the mix with several low cost airlines).

United-US Airways Merger Presents Labor Problem

Another potential problem for any merger is labor, which is especially true for the integration of airline work forces and their various and sundry unions. As the New York Times reported, the Delta-Northwest merger was actually put on hold for awhile in 2008 so the pilots of the two airlines "could work out an agreement on combining their ranks." Smart.

And it's especially smart when you consider that one of the current potential merger partners, US Airways, has still not fully integrated pilot seniority issues since it merged with America West, and that happened five years ago!

Why now? Well, merger talk always heats up when oil prices do, and lately oil has been cresting at $85 a barrel. But don't look for anything to happen too soon. Mergers can and do take years, although some felt that the Delta/Northwest deal was hurried (in merger terms) so it could get underway during the Bush administration, which was deemed more business-friendly. In the meantime, there are indications that the United-US Airways talks are very serious indeed.

But haven't we been here before? We sure have. United and US Airways have had consolidation conversations at one time or another in the past decade, and there was even one failed attempt to merge back in May 2000. So who knows what will happen?

On the other hand, take a look at British Airways and Spain's Iberia. The two airlines have signed a merger agreement (that still must get government approval) but they could seal the deal by this fall; each would keep its own name and brand.

In other words, merger fever is out there.

And on the whole, I find "merger mania" a heck of a lot more interesting a topic than which airline is going to follow Spirit into the realm of carryon fees. By the way, my guess is that none of them will. We shall see.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and does not reflect the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations including ABC News, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg. His Web site, FareCompare.com, offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deals.

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