Merge? Government should break up the airlines, instead

Even if you aren’t a know-it-all frequent business traveler or a smug aviation industry insider, you’ve probably come across the term “fortress hub.” It’s an airport dominated by a single airline that controls more than 70 percent of flights. Dallas/Fort Worth is an American Airlines fortress hub, for example. In Atlanta, it’s Delta Air Lines and in Charlotte, it’s US Airways.

Fortress hubs are important because they are what the airline industry doesn’t want you to think about as they contemplate mergers. Certainly, they aren’t what they want government regulators to ponder as they consider approving Delta Air Lines’ likely merger with Northwest Airlines, Continental’s probable marriage with United Airlines, and American Airlines’ possible acquisition of US Airways.

Fortress hubs stifle competition, raise fares, and create cesspools of customer service. They are ultimately bad for the airlines themselves because they’re incubators for a complacent workforce and company-wide morale that can at best be described as indifferent, and at worst, passenger-hostile.

And here’s the thing. These conditions already exist in cities like Detroit, Minneapolis and Newark.

They’re so awful that the government, rather than approving these proposed airline mergers, should go the other way.

That’s right. Authorities ought to break up of some of these monopolistic carriers.

They did it to AT&T in 1974. Why not now?

This is where I think critics like James Oberstar and the passenger rights coalition du jour have it wrong. It isn’t enough to stand in the way of these mergers. We need to end the monopolies that currently exist.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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