The longstanding uncertainty over the future of bankrupt American Airlines, Miami’s largest carrier and one of the top private employers in the county, was finally resolved with Thursday morning’s announcement of a merger with US Airways.
But a new question emerged from passengers weary of poor customer service as leaders of the two companies announced plans to form the world’s largest air carrier: Will the new giant airline make flying any less of a drag?
Experts and airline officials say there are many positives, especially in South Florida: If approved by a bankruptcy judge and anti-trust regulators, the merged airline will offer more destinations around the world, compete better with the powerful United and Delta carriers and allow American to shed the labor tensions that have long proved troublesome.
“They’ll have no excuse for not improving,” said George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. “They will be more profitable; the worst is behind them in terms of employee relations.”
In an interview Thursday, American Airlines CEO Tom Horton — who had initially resisted overtures from US Airways — talked up the benefits of the $11 billion deal.
“What it means for our customers is a bigger, broader network with more opportunities to get more places easily, and obviously a more financially strong, powerful American Airlines,” said Horton, who briefly will become chairman of the merged airline’s board. South Floridians will have greater access via American to Charlotte and Philadelphia, now dominated by US Airways, and to cities throughout the northeast.
“All of that taken together means that we will be stronger, have more propensity for growth than we already would have, particularly in a region that is growing.”
He highlighted Miami as a region with significant promise for the new airline, calling the hub and the Latin American and Caribbean operation “the best airline franchise in the world.”
“I would expect that the newer, bigger, stronger American will only mean more business through Miami,” he said. “Fortunately for us, Latin America is a place we see extraordinary growth potential — and we’re going to capitalize on it.”
Tourism and business leaders in Miami said they were heartened by Thursday’s announcement.
“It just takes away the angst, it takes away the uncertainty, it allows for planning,” said Frank Nero, president and CEO of the Beacon Council. He said airlift in and out of Miami is one element that the council, Miami-Dade’s economic development partnership, markets to businesses.
American carries nearly 70 percent of passengers at Miami International Airport, making its health crucial to the important tourism industry.
Said William Talbert III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. “For Miami, it’s only a positive.”
But not everyone is so optimistic.
“[Service] will probably get worse, particularly in Miami,” predicted Miami resident Richard McCormick, replying to a query from the Public Insight Network. “When you have, essentially, a captive clientele, why be nice to the passengers?”
In the most recent Airline Quality Rating, which ranks airlines according to performance, US Airways was in eighth place, American was No. 10, and regional carrier American Eagle brought up the rear in fifteenth place.