Director of consumer website says American Airlines could be forced to merge with US Air after problems

by: Holly Maynard Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - American Airlines could be forced to merge with US Airways after its many problems the past few weeks. That's according to the executive director of www.flyersrights.org, who said the website has received close to 1,000 complaints about American in the last two weeks.

At Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Monday, traveler Erin Alexander said she had a good experience with American.

"We left on time, the flight was smooth, no problems," Alexander said. But when she flew American last week, she said, "No in-flight problems but lots of delays."

That is when the airline canceled more than 90 flights because of concerns about loose seats. It's also at odds with its pilots union over contracts, and has delayed or canceled dozens of flights because of maintenance concerns.

"If they don't merge, if there isn't an agreement to merge, my fear is that American will disappear altogether," said Kate Hanni from flyersrights.org.

US Airways, which has its largest hub in Charlotte, started courting American soon after it filed for bankruptcy last year. In recent months, US Airways and some airline consultants have said a merger would provide significant benefits to Charlotte.

However, not everyone agrees.

"It's not a given that an American Airlines/US Airways merger would be good," said Michael Lowrey, an analyst who has studied the airline industry for 10 years. He also blogs about air industry issues. Lowrey said airfares could go up after a merger happens because the cost structure of the combined airline will be higher.

US Airways had previously said a merger would give Charlotte passengers access to American's robust network in Latin America, but Lowrey said that won't affect Charlotte much since most of those flights will still go through Miami. Plus, Lowrey said, any domestic routes coming from American won't be significant.

"The benefit to Charlotte on top of the 640 flights we already have will be very minor," he said

The airlines cannot comment on Lowrey's claims right now because of a non-disclosure agreement they signed in August. However, previously, US Airways told us a merger would be beneficial for Charlotte, including an increase from 650 to more than 700 flights a day, providing customers with many more route options. Charlotte Douglas would remain a hub. The airline said a merger would also give Charlotte access to a larger international network. Lowrey agrees that travelers will benefit from their service to places like London and Spain, but said American is not that strong in Europe overall.

The airline also said it would provide better service and improve competition with new United and Delta. Some airline consultants and airline researchers have also told Eyewitness News they believe that a merger will be good for Charlotte's economy since the airline and hub will be stronger.