Local News
4:32 pm
Thu February 14, 2013

A Cautionary Airport Tale For Charlotte As US Airways/American Merge

A statue of Queen Charlotte, for whom the city was named, greets travelers at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
A statue of Queen Charlotte, for whom the city was named, greets travelers at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
Credit wallygrom / Flickr

  Thursday's official news of a merger between US Airways and American Airlines brought a sigh of relief to Charlotte, which seems poised to maintain its prominence as a major hub. But WFAE's Julie Rose reports there's reason for some caution amid the optimism.

Adie Tomer of the Brookings Institution has one word for Charlotte – Cincinnati. It was a major hub for Delta back in 2008 when the airline merged with Northwest. Everyone was breathing a sigh of relief there, too, says Tomer.

"No one was knocking down their door to say in fact, 'Delta is going to be leaving its flights out of this airport,'" warns Tomer.  "Delta and the airport authority were saying the exact opposite up until the decision was made."

"Rebalancing" is the industry term for shifting flights to other airports.

Yes, Cincinnati remains a Delta hub, but walk through its ghost-town of a terminal and you'll see that status isn't always what it's cracked up to be. US Airways CEO Doug Parker acknowledged on Thursday that some rebalancing will happen at its hubs too, after the American Airlines merger.

"You know, there will be some changes, but it's going to be built on the notion that we're going to retain and build our existing hubs," said Parker on a conference call with analysts.

Those hubs include Phoenix, Charlotte and Philadelphia for US Airways and Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Dallas for American.  Parker says the two airlines have very little overlap in their route maps, so there may not be a lot of redundant flights to ax.

But Tomer says the simple fact is Charlotte's not as big a deal as some of those other hub cities.

"Airlines are going to fly in and out of New York irrespective of what their 'hub' status is," says Tomer. "Same thing goes for Philadelphia, Miami, Los Angeles – these are huge global economic players. They're going to hold on to their airline operations irrespective of what maybe some of the internal calculations are."

The prominence of those major cities means their airports will thrive even if they lost a large number of flights post-merger.

But Charlotte gets about 90 percent of its airport business from US Airways. And most of those travelers are just passing through as they connect flights. So, significant cuts to service here could have the same effect as it did in Cincinnati. 

While Tomer urges cautious optimism, Charlotte Aviation Director Jerry Orr is downright bullish on the airport's post-merger prospects because of its low cost to the airlines and its central location on the East Coast. 

Charlotte won't just remain a major hub for the New American Airlines, predicts Orr. It'll be, "in an even better position," with more flights to more destinations.