With American Airlines and US Airways merging this week to form the world's largest airline, the best advice for travelers might simply be to carry on.
Many changes are coming in the months ahead. But for travelers, the differences will likely be subtle for a few months.
That should be good news during this holiday season, when the usual hustle and bustle experienced by frequent fliers is amplified by the presence of less experienced — and often stressed-out — leisure travelers.
"The first thing that we're going to focus on is to make sure that, as we start to introduce changes, we do it in such a way that it is not at all disruptive to the customer. We'll start doing some of that in early January," said American Airlines treasurer Beverly Goulet, who will be chief integration officer at the combined carrier. "We are focused and will continue to focus heavily on making sure that comes off without a hitch."
For now, American, its partner American Eagle and US Airways will operate separately — although behind the scenes they'll be under the same corporate umbrella, based in Fort Worth, Texas.
But travelers can expect gradual changes, beginning with the installation of a code-sharing system to coordinate bookings on either airline and integration of frequent-flier programs.
Overall, the merger will take an estimated 18 to 24 months to complete.
Question: I have flights booked on US Airways for the holidays. Will my flights change?
Answer: No. Travelers can expect to proceed with their scheduled itineraries.
Though the US Airways brand will gradually be folded into the American motif, customers will see no changes at airport terminals until after the holidays. Even then, the changes are expected to be rolled out gradually.
Q: How will the merger affect flights?
A: During the coming months, one industry observer said, one key difference at many airports might be fewer delays at the new American Airlines, which will be run by US Airways management.
"One thing that should greatly improve is operations performance," said Brett Snyder, founder of the travel website CrankyFlier.com. "US Airways is very good at running an on-time airline. It should be a dramatic improvement in quality, reliability and even safety."
Q: How long will US Airways operate under that name?
A: Probably until 2015. It's expected to take up to two years for the airlines to merge completely.
Q: When can I use my American Airlines frequent-flier miles to buy a flight on US Airways?
A: Perhaps as soon as January. Merging the two frequent-flier programs is expected to be one of the first orders of business at the new year, and an announcement with details on how it will be accomplished could come as soon as Jan. 7.