Angry about rising airfares? Hold onto your wallets: If US Airways successfully takes over American Airlines, as it suggested Friday, consumers may pay. Travelers will also have to work harder to find a good deal. Low-cost airlines that have largely flown under the radar, so to speak, could make a difference to consumers' travel budgets.
American, which is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, says it's determined to continue as a stand-alone carrier. Still, US Airways' merger proposal has the support of key unions, and further consolidation in an industry that's already seen six legacy airlines shrink to four in the last three-and-a-half years seems likely -- and potentially expensive to you, the passenger.
"If you're in a large city with a lot of competitors, you're probably pretty safe," Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare, told ABC News. "The real key is the smaller cities that may or may not have as much competition. You remove some of that competition with a merger, typically they take the brunt of airfare hikes. Less activity for bringing prices back down."
Smaller cities may also find themselves with less service in addition to higher prices, meaning more connecting flight and fewer flights per day.
While the big airlines -- both the legacy carriers and so-called low-cost carriers like JetBlue and Southwest -- concentrate their efforts on major cities for the most part, there are a handful of lesser-known carriers that serve smaller cities. Here's the lowdown on four of those airlines:
This Las Vegas-based airline made headlines recently when it announced it would charge for carry-on luggage. But despite the additional fees, the airline may make sense for travelers flying to or from Sin City. Allegiant focuses primarily on leisure destinations including four airports in Florida, Myrtle Beach, S.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco. Click here for a look at the airline's complete route map.
The new airline with the old name says it will start flying in the summer of 2012. The original People Express of the 1980s -- considered to be the very first low-cost carrier -- became famous for its no-frills service and low fares before it was folded into Continental Airlines.
The new airline is not a resurrection of the old one; it just borrows the name. It's currently in the process of seeking government approval. If it does indeed take off, it will be based in Newport News, Va. and serve cities in the Northeast and Florida, including West Palm Beach, Fla. and Providence, R.I.
Sun Country Airlines
The Minneapolis-St. Paul-based airline offers both seasonal and year-round service to many leisure destinations including Mexico, Florida, the Caribbean, Las Vegas, plus Boston, New York City and Washington, D.C. For Alaska cruisers, it offers summer service to both Seattle and Anchorage, both popular departure ports. Click here to see a complete route map.
While the bulk of this airline's service has primarily been charter flights, it has dipped its wing into commercial service from time to time, most recently with flights to the Final Four in New Orleans during college basketball's March Madness.
Since last November, airline has offered nonstop commercial service to Grand Bahama Island from Baltimore, Md.; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Louisville, Ky.; Richmond, Va.; and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. That contract ends on April 30, but an airline spokesperson tells ABCNews.com the airline plans to announce new routes by the end of this week. Most recently, the airline stepped in to offer service to Fort Myers, Fla. From Springfield and Rockford, Ill. for passengers stranded by the suspension of service by DirectAir.
Two more tips: Keep in mind not every airline's fares can be found on the traditional online travel booking sites like Expedia and Orbitz. Even giant Southwest's fares can only be found on its own site. And once the AirTran merger with Southwest is complete, it's likely those fares will also disappear.
Finally, though some airlines are defined as "legacy" carriers and others as "low-cost," the truth is that there's very little difference in prices on routes where carriers compete. An airline classified as "low-cost" many have indeed once offered lower prices, but now that term primarily refers to a less complicated fare structure and a certain type of flying experience -- which in fact is often a better one than you'll find on the legacy carriers.