Pan Am, TWA, Eastern, Northwest, Continental, Allegheny, Piedmont, Western, Republic, PSA, Ozark, Braniff, America West, Midway, New York Air, People Express, ATA and ValuJet. In the years following Congress’ 1978 deregulation of the airline industry, those were common brands in airports across the country.
Now they’re all gone.
A few went belly up, but most were swallowed, one at a time, by larger rivals to the point that now, as American Airlines prepares to absorb US Airways, just four giant carriers would control 80 percent of the domestic/overseas market.
The question is: Is that enough competition to guarantee the service and fares that travelers need? Or are the Big Four — American, Delta, United and Southwest — now so dominant that they can carve up the national air travel map in ways that benefit their corporate desires while leaving many travelers in the nation’s midsection with fewer flights and rising costs?
Considering the Justice Department’s weak knees on past deals, little resistance is expected for this $11 billion merger, which would create the world’s largest airline. Still, as chair of the Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., was right to ask the Government Accountability Office to examine the pending deal in a larger context: How does having fewer and fewer airline choices affect the flying public?
Her question serves as a reminder to the government that the benefits of merger should extend beyond shareholders, corporate executives, corporate lawyers and, in this case, American’s ability to compete with Delta and United on overseas routes. The broader flying public should also benefit, and that’s where the upside is hard to see.