Don't blame airline mergers for travel snafus

| Updated: May 25, 2017 12:57 IST

Washington D.C. [USA], May 25 (ANI): From lost bags to flight delays and reservation headaches, when it comes to travel snafus, the blame is usually put on the airline mergers, but according to a recent study, you may want to rethink that. The analysis of 15 years of U.S. Department of Transportation statistics found that airline consolidation has had little negative impact on on-time performance. In fact, two Indiana University researchers found evidence that mergers lead to long-term improvements, likely due to improved efficiencies. "While we find some limited evidence of on-time performance worsening in the two years immediately following a merger, we find no evidence of on-time performance worsening in the long run," authors Jeffrey T. Prince and Daniel H. Simon wrote. "In many cases, we find evidence that on-time performance improves in the long run, and suggestive evidence that it is most pronounced on routes where both merging airlines operated pre-merger." They analyzed on-time performance for five major airline mergers since 2000, including American Airlines' acquisition of Trans World Airlines in 2001; America West's acquisition of U.S. Airways in 2005; Delta Airlines' merger with Northwest Airlines in 2008; United Airlines' merger with Continental Airlines in 2010; and Southwest Airlines' acquisition of Airtran Airways in 2011. Prince and Simon used three years of data prior to each merger and then up to five years of data afterward. To create a control group, they looked at on-time performance for the merging carriers' rivals, which enabled them to better identify the impact of mergers on airline service quality. Due to the immense size of their dataset, they focused on activity on the 10th, the 15th and 20th of each month. "While travel time is little changed in the first two years following a merger, it falls by about one to two minutes (1 percent) in the following three to five years," they wrote. "None of the results provide any evidence for the conventional wisdom that mergers worsen on-time performance." "Further analysis reveals that we find the biggest improvement in on-time performance in the long-run, post-merger period on some of the routes where we would expect merger effects to be most pronounced, routes that both carriers served prior to merging," they said. "These routes offer the greatest opportunities for efficiencies, including consolidation of operations on the ground and in the air, and the internalization of congestion externalities." Their study found no evidence that rival air carriers' on-time performance was negatively affected by the presence of an airline that had recently merged, while providing some tentative evidence that improvements in efficiency at merged airlines may also be largely matched by competitors on routes that the merging carriers previously served. "Overall, our findings suggest that airline mergers do not harm, and may ultimately benefit, consumers via enhanced service quality in the form of on-time performance, particularly a few years after the merger," they added. "Of course, a full welfare assessment must consider price changes as well as changes in all other quality dimensions, but for at least those quality dimensions we examine in our analysis, there does not appear to be any evidence of any notable worsening." The study is published in the Journal of Industrial Economics. (ANI)