Myrtle Beach losing flights to Washington, D.C., as result of merger

01/15/2014 7:08 PM

01/15/2014 10:22 PM

Myrtle Beach will lose its nonstop flights to Washington Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., as a result of the US Airways-American Airlines merger, and officials aren’t optimistic the direct connection to DCA will resume any time soon.

Myrtle Beach is one of 17 cities that will lose the coveted service to DCA, leaving travelers to connect in Charlotte, N.C., or Atlanta or fly into Baltimore-Washington International Airport on Spirit Airlines. The DCA flights from Myrtle Beach on US Airways are year-round, growing to daily during the summer.

The merged airline announced Wednesday which cities would lose service to DCA and LaGuardia as part of its agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to allow the merger to go through.

The airline didn’t say when the current DCA service to Myrtle Beach and the other cities would end, saying those details would be announced in the coming weeks after the sale of slots and related assets is finalized.

“That is a blow,” said Kirk Lovell, spokesman for Myrtle Beach International Airport. “A lot of people who use that on a regular basis will be very disappointed. It is a very important destination to be able to fly to.”

American Airlines-US Airways agreed to give up slots, or takeoffs and landing rights, at Washington Reagan and LaGuardia as part of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice to allow the two carriers to combine to form the world’s largest airline. The settlement came in November after the government sued to block the merger, saying it would restrict competition and drive up prices for consumers on hundreds of routes around the country.

The combined carrier didn’t say how it picked which markets would lose service to those in-demand airports. Wilmington, N.C., also lost service to Washington Reagan but picked up service to LaGuardia.

“In an effort to minimize any impact that our DOJ-required slot divestitures would have on small- and medium-size communities, we felt it was important to make this announcement now,” Andrew Nocella, American Airlines’ senior vice president and chief marketing officer, said in a news release. “We know how important this service is to the people and the communities affected, and we hope that our competitors who acquire our slots and gates will maintain service to the impacted cities.”

Regardless of which airlines pick up American-US Airways slots, Lovell said he isn’t optimistic that Myrtle Beach will be able to restore service to DCA any time soon. The airlines that pick up American-US Airways’ former slots will likely choose to fly to bigger cities or markets with more elite business travelers who regularly pay the higher, last-minute fares, Lovell said.

“This is going to be a tough one,” he said.

The merger deal closed in December, though it will take at least 18 months or longer to integrate the two carriers. US Airways is the second busiest carrier in Myrtle Beach behind Spirit Airlines. US Airways brought 206,235 passengers into MYR in 2013, according to airport statistics.

Some experts had speculated after the settlement that smaller cities such as Myrtle Beach would likely lose the service to DCA and LaGuardia.

“We’re disappointed in the US Airways announcement, but are not surprised,” Brad Dean, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said in an email. “This is a necessary business decision resulting from the U.S. Department of Justice’s merger settlement with US Airways and American Airlines.”

The flights to DCA from Myrtle Beach were growing in popularity. US Airways flies from Myrtle Beach to DCA year-round, but increased those flights to daily during the summer last year for the first time. They scaled back after the busy summer season, which is typical in Myrtle Beach’s seasonal market.

One option for D.C.-bound travelers will be flying to Baltimore-Washington on Spirit Airlines, then heading into Washington, D.C. Those Spirit flights resume Feb. 15 twice a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays, then increase to three times a week starting March 20 then daily beginning May 1, Spirit announced Tuesday. Or travelers can chose connecting flights.

“They can still get there; they just cannot get there nonstop,” Lovell said.

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