Airlines’ rally lands on Capitol Hill

Justice blocking US Airways’ deal with American

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US Airways and American Airlines employees from across the country gathered outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday afternoon, raising their voices and their signs to demand the Justice Department stop blocking the companies’ $11 billion merger.

Last month, the Justice Department, along with six state attorneys general and the District of Columbia, filed antitrust lawsuits against the companies, citing concerns that a merger would lead to higher fares for travelers.

“All we’re trying to do is combine to become an effective competitor,” said William K. Ris Jr., senior vice president of government and regulatory affairs at American Airlines. “We’re just trying to do what every other business is doing, which is keep our heads above water and reinvest in our product and our people.”

Wednesday’s rally was comprised of flight attendants, pilots and corporate executives from US Airways and American Airlines, along with members of Congress from both parties.

The antitrust lawsuits came as a shock to leaders of both airlines, especially since recent mergers of airlines such as United, Delta and Southwest went forward without interference from the Justice Department.

“We felt confident that since [the Justice Department] allowed the other two companies to merge they’d allow the same for us,” said Capt. John Dantzler, a pilot for American Airlines.

“They’ve set this ball in motion. They can’t pull back now and say ‘Well, the other airlines can do it, but you all at American Airlines can’t do that,” said Paul Cappucci, a flight attendant at US Airways.

American Airlines officially filed for bankruptcy in November 2011 and proposed a merger with US Airways in February.

The merger has been approved since by the bankruptcy judge, European regulators and shareholders.

“We have no idea if we’re going to have a job next week,” said Mary Oswald, a flight attendant with American Eagle, an American Airlines subsidiary.

She said employees at subsidiary airlines are particularly vulnerable if the merger is blocked.

“The main line can grow and be strong, but they’re expecting everyone else to … keep giving up wages and work benefits,” she said.

Opponents of the merger have raised concerns that the deal would lead to higher prices, but representatives from both companies believe there is no evidence to support such concerns.

“We respect the fact that they have a different view, and we understand that they’re not poorly motivated … but we just respectfully disagree with them,” Mr. Ris said.

The trial date to hear the Justice Department’s arguments against the proposed merger is set for Nov. 25.

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