ADVERTISEMENT

NEW YORK – American Airlines and US Airways have cleared the last major hurdle to merging, but it will be several months – if not years – before passengers see any significant impact.

Passengers with existing tickets on American or US Airways – and members of both frequent flier programs – shouldn’t fret. No changes will come immediately.

Following Tuesday’s agreement with the Justice Department, the two airlines said they expect the deal to close in December. But that doesn’t mean everything will happen overnight. When the deal does close, here’s what passengers can expect:

Airfare: The merger will give a combined American and US Airways Group Inc. the ability to increase fares. United, Delta and Southwest would be likely to follow. The move could also pave the way for further expansion by discount airlines such as Spirit Airlines Inc. and Allegiant Travel Co.

Frequent Flier Miles: Your miles will be safe. After the merger closes, the two airlines will likely combine the miles into one program and elite status from one airline will likely be honored on the other. That puts the occasional traveler closer to rewards.

The merged carrier will continue American’s participation in the OneWorld alliance, which was founded by American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Qantas. Today, it has 13 airlines including Finnair, Royal Jordanian and Japan Airlines. US Airways will leave the Star Alliance, which includes rival United Airlines, Lufthansa, Air Canada and 24 other airlines. Alliances allow passengers to earn and redeem miles on partner airlines.

Destinations: A key reason for merging is to link both airlines’ networks, creating a system on par with Delta Air Lines and United, part of United Continental Holdings Inc.

The combined carrier will offer more than 6,700 daily flights to 336 destinations in 56 countries, making it more attractive to companies seeking to fly employees around the globe with few connections.

US Airways passengers will gain access to American’s international destinations, particularly London and Latin America. American’s passengers will be able to better connect to smaller U.S. cities that US Airways serves.

The combined carrier will have considerable presence in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Charlotte, N.C., Miami, Chicago, Dallas, Phoenix and Los Angeles. It is unclear how many of those cities will keep their levels of service. In past mergers, airlines have promised not to close any hubs but have gone ahead and dramatically reduced service in once-key cities.