United-USAirways Deal Nears

flight attendantJust weeks after Northwest Airways and Delta Airlines announced their merger plans, it appears that United Airlines and USAirways will soon make their own announcement. If pulled off, a United-USAirways merger would create the world’s second largest airline just behind the newly-merged Northwest-Delta entity which will be called Delta Airlines.

Flying as United Airlines, the newly-merged airline is expected to keep its headquarters in Chicago, but be controlled by USAirways management. USAirways was bought out by America West in 2005, but the airline kept the better known USAirways name.

We’ve Been Down This Road Before

If the United-USAirways deals sounds familiar, the Chicago Tribune

recently reminded its readers that these airlines had announced a deal in 2000, that collapsed 14 months later. Opposition from regulatory and union officials ditched those plans and a slowing economy was also being blamed for the earlier collapse.

Gates To Open Up

Certain east coast US gates controlled by USAirways and United could suddenly be freed up if the merger goes through. Likely, regulators would force the newly-merged entity to cede gates at important airports, including Reagan National in Washington, DC, allowing JetBlue, Virgin America, and Air Tran to bid on available gates.

Other Industry News

Most of the merger talk these days has come about as airlines face record jet fuel prices. A rash of smaller airlines have already declared bankruptcy with several closing their doors permanently. However, a few airlines are hoping to make it through the current crisis including:

  • Silverjet, which is the last of three air carriers flying business class only passengers between New York and London (after MAXjet and EOS’ demise) has been in talks with Lufthansa and other interested parties to purchase the airline. However, Silverjet CEO Lawrence Hunt is reluctant to sell citing market conditions as the chief reasons to keep Silverjet off the market.

Oil Dips Slightly

One glimmer of light for the airlines is the price of oil which actually dropped slightly

by 56 cents to $125.40 for June crude delivery. Not that bright of a light, that is for certain, but one the airlines can use if only for the moment.

May 2008 Hiring Forecast

Emirates Airline

In all the many years I have been tracking the airline industry, I do not recall a month as difficult as the one just ended. Clearly, April 2008 will be remembered historically as one when five air carriers went bankrupt, when Northwest and Delta Airlines announced their merger, and where USAirways and United Airlines drew closer to announcing their own merger plans.

For flight crew members and those aspiring to become one, a constant stream of bad news has made a tough industry all the more bleaker. What was during the early days of flying an outstanding career choice, looks just about to be the opposite.

Breaking down the news further we learned:

Aloha, Frontier, EOS, ATA Airlines, and Skybus each have declared bankruptcy. Only Frontier is still flying, hoping to reorganize and eventually work their way out of bankruptcy. Previously, MAXjet Airways and Big Sky Airlines closed their doors.

Fuel prices, perhaps the single biggest culprit behind the collapse of many air carriers, remains extremely high. Many airlines are unable to pass these costs on to customers, resulting in large losses they could no longer handle.

Mergers, which once looked like a bad idea are suddenly quite attractive. Northwest and Delta are working towards becoming one airline, flying under the Delta name. United was in talks with both Continental and USAirways, but after Continental pulled out, things heated up quickly with USAirways.

The Months Ahead

Northwest Airlines

Expect other air carriers to also announce their closings as well as additional merger talks leading to further consolidation. American and Continental have yet to find suitable partners, perhaps they’ll consider each other or gobble up a handful of regional air carriers.

Southwest Airlines is in the best financial position of any airline, but I suspect Southwest is cautiously weighing their options.

Air charter operators such as Omni Air, Miami Air, World Airways may be able to weather the financial crisis by passing along their costs to customers.

Where To Look For Work

If you are a recently furloughed flight attendant and you desire to stay with the airlines, likely your best chance of finding work is with a foreign air carrier. Middle Eastern airlines, including Etihad Airways

and Emirates Airlines

are recruiting. Etihad says that they have 200 vacancies

to fill while Emirates Airline isn’t listing specific openings, but they are accepting applications. In both cases you’ll likely have to relocate to Dubai, which is part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Virgin AmericaVirgin America is still recruiting “In Flight Team Members” and is an airline worth exploring. Being part of the Virgin Group has its advantages, though 51% of the airline’s ownership is in the hands of American citizens. Consider Virgin Atlantic if you desire to fly to the UK, however they are not hiring at the moment.

Silverjet’s ability to keep flying may hinge on whether Lufthansa purchases the airline. Earlier this year, the airline was having financial difficulty and managed to raise some cash as they filled some extra seats. With EOS Airlines out of the way, Silverjet

has one less competitor for their business class clientele. The airline is recruiting, but I cannot confirm if this means that they are hiring too. I have no update on L’Avion

, the French business class airline flying from Paris to New York.

Porter Airlines

is still recruiting for their Toronto base, but you must be a Canadian citizen or someone with the right to work in Canada. The airline began service to Newark (EWR) earlier this year and is looking to expand.

Beyond what I have mentioned, Spirit Airlines

is still recruiting, World Airways

is worth a look, and a handful of regional carriers may also be checking out.