Biggest winners in the American-US Airways deal
FORTUNE — The proposed merger of American Airlines and US Airways is not all doom and gloom for everyone — it is all about timing. At first the new airline will seem to be on track, but the honeymoon will quickly fade away as the combined company’s chief executive Doug Parker and his team start to merge operations.
The biggest winners are below. Check out the biggest losers here (and there are plenty).
Labor (at first)
One of the key reasons American chose to put itself into bankruptcy at the end of 2011 was to tame its crippling labor and pension costs. American was paying its pilots, flight attendants, and ground crews — all unionized — wages that were far higher than its competitors, and it was facing pension obligations that would soon consume the airline’s meager profits.
Bankruptcy would give American’s management the ability to tear up existing labor contracts, thus forcing its unions to the bargaining table. The scheme had worked for other airlines, namely Delta (DAL), United (UAL) and Northwest, which had all worked out more realistic pay schemes with their unions while they were in bankruptcy a few years back. American’s initial plan was to basically shred pensions, slash up to 14,000 workers, and cut pay and benefits across the board.
But something went terribly wrong for American’s plan — Doug Parker. The US Airways (LCC) chief essentially sabotaged American’s restructuring plan by securing “memorandums of understanding” with its unions in which he promised to save jobs and grant them pay raises if they supported his bid for American. The unions made up a third of the voting power of American’s unsecured creditor’s committee, giving Parker the power to bully American’s management and the rest of American’s creditors into considering a merger.
So what is everyone going to get in Parker’s new world? From what we know now, flight attendants at American, represented by the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, signed an MOU in January but refused to disclose the outcome. But there is speculation that the deal gives the flight attendants easier scheduling, a $5-an-hour pay increase, and a $1,200 “ratification” bonus. American’s ground crews, represented by the Transport Workers Union, signed over their support in a three-way MOU with US Airways and American in exchange for a 4.3% pay increase. American’s pilots, represented by the Allied Pilots Association, recently agreed to a pay package deal with US Airways that is some $522 million above what they had originally agreed to with American’s management.
But it isn’t just American’s workers who will see a windfall here — employees at US Airways will see their pay increase significantly as well. That’s because Parker has to match employee pay across the new American. Since US Airways employees were paid less than American’s employees to begin with, they will see an even greater jump in compensation and benefits. For example, US Airways pilots agreed on an MOU that will see their benefits and wages increase by an average of $267 million a year for the next six years. Meanwhile, flight attendants at US Airways will see their wages and benefits boosted to the tune of $45 million a year and will get a special $1,700 “ratification” bonus.
The head of US Airways will become the chief executive of the new American, giving him control of what will be the world’s largest airline by passenger volume. He is expected to receive a more lucrative compensation package commensurate to the size of the new airline, along with all the extra perks befitting a CEO of that caliber. But probably most important to Parker is that he will get the last laugh from critics who said he was finished after he failed to secure mergers with Delta in 2008 and United in 2010.
Oneworld Alliance & British Airways
The New American is likely to remain part of the Oneworld airline alliance, offering its global partners, like IAG (British Airways & Iberia), JAL and Qantas greater access to many more U.S. cities. US Airways offers flights throughout the east coast that will most likely remain part of American’s new network.
Deutsche Bank estimates that the new American would have flight offerings on the East Coast that would be almost 10 times the size of what the old American brought to the table (98 vs. 10 destinations). The increase in destinations is expected to increase U.S. connecting traffic for Oneworld members by 6% to 27%, boosting Oneworld’s share of East Coast to Europe traffic from 15% to 28%. This could be good news for American’s joint venture with British Airways. That deal, which gives American and BA antitrust immunity over the Atlantic, generates 37% of BA’s revenue.
The headquarters of the new airline will remain in Dallas (Ft.Worth), saving thousands of jobs from potentially being relocated to US Airways’ headquarters in Phoenix (Tempe). The increase in the airline’s size, and the fact that Parker will want to bring in his own team, will probably increase the number of workers at American’s HQ. American said it had streamlined its management structure in the past year, but that may now all be erased when Parker and his crew fly in.