PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The planned merger of US Airways and American Airlines could have implications for Philadelphia International Airport, possibly increasing the number of international flights and creating more jobs, officials said Thursday.
Philadelphia is a hub for US Airways, which announced earlier in the day that it would merge with American in an $11 billion deal to form the world's largest airline.
City and airport officials were optimistic about the potential impact of the move, which still requires approval from antitrust regulators.
"Increased air service means more opportunities for jobs at the airport and, ultimately, our region," Mayor Michael Nutter said in a statement.
The two airlines collectively have eight hubs across the country, and US Airways CEO Doug Parker said the new combined carrier will keep all of them. But past mergers suggest that's unlikely; American shut down TWA's hub in St. Louis after buying the airline in 2001.
Last month, US Airways signed a two-year lease extension at the Philadelphia airport that also pledged $734 million in improvements, including lengthening a runway to handle long-haul aircraft. Officials at the airport, which served nearly 31 million passengers in 2011, hope to snag some of American's international flights that currently leave from New York.
"If the new airline would place some of those long-haul aircraft into Philadelphia, we might be able to gain access to those markets," airport CEO Mark Gale said.
US Airways used to have a hub at Pittsburgh International Airport but began winding down service in 2001. Since then, thousands of jobs have been lost and the airport — which once served more than 20 million passengers annually — saw only 8 million last year.
At the Philadelphia airport on Thursday, US Airways passengers wondered if the merger would mean steeper fares and more crowded flights. Frequent flyers expressed concerned about keeping their preferred status, which entitles them to seat upgrades and early boarding.
The airlines have said passengers will keep their miles when the programs are eventually combined. Still, a bigger pool of elite frequent flyers will mean fierce competition for a limited number of premium seats and upgrades, said passenger Jack Hassman, who holds the highest loyalty status with US Airways.
Hassman, who was waiting for a flight to Minneapolis on Thursday, also noted the new airline — which will be called American — might serve some cities that US Airways currently does not, allowing him to redeem miles for free flights to new places.
"So that'll be nice because we'll be able to go see some relatives out in the Midwest that we currently can't use points to get to," said Hassman, of Greenwood, Del.
Lori Neyhard and Garon Fenstermaker of Bloomsburg, Pa., said they didn't know how the merger might affect them. The self-described infrequent travelers had just flown back from New Orleans, where they had celebrated Mardi Gras.
"We really just look for the cheapest flights," Neyhard said. "It has nothing to do with the airlines."
AP writers David Koenig in Dallas, Joshua Freed in Minneapolis and Jason Keyser in Chicago contributed to this report.
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