by Michael Lowrey
A week from now, the US Airways brand will be no more, with the airline absorbed into the American Airlines brand. The Charlotte Observer provides a summary of what that means, which is fine as far as it goes, but there’s a couple of things that the paper misses. Critically, there still are a lot of areas in which they are far from integrated:
• While the US Airways brand may be disappearing, mainline flights from legacy US Airways hubs (Charlotte, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Reagan National) are flown almost exclusively by legacy US Airways crews on legacy US Airways aircraft. Mainline flights from legacy American hubs are almost exclusively flown by legacy American crews on legacy American aircraft. As an example, on Thursday, Oct. 15, US Airways and American will have a combined 649 flights from CLT, 299 on mainline aircraft, with the other 350 flown by the airlines’ regional partners. On the 299 mainline flights, only 12 are on American Airlines planes, will 11 of those flights to American Airlines hubs (Dallas Ft. Worth 6, Miami 2, Chicago O’Hare 2, New York Kennedy 1) and only one “cross-fleeting” flight, from CLT to/from Houston.
• Plays into the above is that thee company is also still negotiating labor agreements which integrate the legacy American and US Airways employee groups. It might be 2017 before all that is sorted out, perhaps longer because of the bizarreness of the US Airways/America West pilots contract situation.
• Then there’s the aircraft product integration. Or perhaps better said, the lack of aircraft product integration. American and US Airways offer rather different seating mixes on their aircraft. American features an economy plus product (“Main Cabin Extra”) on its mainline aircraft — still six-seats a row on Airbus A319 and A321s or Boeing 737s or 757s but with more legroom — which US Airways doesn’t have. As an example, a standard American Airbus A321 seats 181 (16 first class, 38 economy plus, 127 economy) compared to 187 on US Airways (16 first class, 171 economy).
The same pattern holds on widebody aircraft, with American having a much more premium-heavy product mix of seats. A typical American 767-300ER seats 209, with 28 business class, 18 economy plus, and 163 economy. A US Airways A332-200 — which is a larger aircraft that a 767-300 — seats 252, with 20 business class seats and 232 seats in economy. So far, plans have been have announced to convert US Airways A319s to the American seat plan. There’s no word yet on whether the rest of the US Airways fleet will be refitted to a American-style seat mix.