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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 9, 2010

What to expect from a bigger United Air


By DAVID PITT
Associated Press

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Air travelers often get more destinations to choose from when airlines merge but they may also pay higher fares.

CHARLES REX ARBOGAST | Associated Press

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Here's how the creation of a new United Airlines after its merger with Continental Air may affect flyers:

Fares: They're not likely to skyrocket, but don't be surprised if average fares rise 5 to 7 percent.

Routes where the two airlines have overlapping nonstop flights Houston to Denver and Newark to San Francisco, for example are most likely to increase. That's because less competition often means higher fares.

Fare increases will be softened for leisure travelers because their ticket prices are driven largely by low-fare providers, like JetBlue Airways and Virgin America, said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, a passenger advocacy group.

Continental CEO Jeff Smisek and United CEO Glenn Tilton say their goal is to draw more business flyers at top dollar. They expect their expanded flight offerings to pull in as much as $900 million a year in additional revenue from corporate travelers.

Fees: They'll remain in effect and they'll stay high. Airline fee revenue rose 42 percent to $7.8 billion last year thanks to the charges for checked bags, carrying pets or making reservation changes, according to the Department of Transportation.

Frequent flyer miles: Continental's frequent flyer miles have no expiration date but United's expire in 18 months. Check which policy the new United will adopt.

Destinations: The combined airline will need to fly to many of the cities United and Continental serve now to support the long-range domestic and international flights it wants to provide. The new United might be required to divest certain routes, gates or a percentage of available seats to keep it from controlling too much of the market.

Seamless flying: Flights to China, Europe and Latin America may become easier as passengers are allowed to stay on a United jet. Changes won't go into effect until late this year or early 2011 after the deal closes. Meanwhile, check www.unitedcontinentalmerger.com for links to routes and communities served.