In the coming weeks, the future of American Airlines is expected to be decided. It may exit from bankruptcy through a court-sanctioned merger with U.S. Airways.

It may exit as a standalone company, then seek to acquire its smaller rival immediately. It may emerge and stand pat, though most likely a deal is coming that will affect the flying public.

Some consumer advocates are worried. In their view, airline consolidation already has gone too far. Delta-Northwest and United-Continental have the leverage to boost fares, dominate certain markets, trim scheduled flight service and charge annoying fees. An American-U.S. Airways tie-up would run the risk of further reducing competition to the detriment of passengers.

Yet those valid concerns must be weighed against the significant benefits of a merger. Strong airlines do a better job of serving their customers. The same cannot be said for money-losing, inefficient airlines with aging, breakdown-prone fleets.

An American-U.S. Airways merger makes sense.

As is, U.S. Airways probably would have trouble competing effectively on its own. Even the larger American may lack the necessary scale to stand up to the industry's two giants. An American-U.S. Airways merger would fill gaps in the network of destinations that each airline covers, and help resolve long-simmering labor issues.

It could smooth the passage of travelers from the East Coast, where U.S. Airways is strong, to Latin America and Asia, where American has valuable routes. It could buy peace, at least temporarily, with union pilots who favor a merger.