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Airline Mergers: Issues Raised by the Proposed Merger of United and Continental Airlines

GAO-10-778T Published: May 27, 2010. Publicly Released: May 27, 2010.
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Earlier this month, United Air Lines (United) and Continental Airlines (Continental) announced plans to merge the two airlines and signed a merger agreement. This follows the acquisition of Northwest Airlines by Delta Air Lines (Delta) in 2008, which propelled Delta to become the largest airline in the United States. This latest merger, if not challenged by the Department of Justice (DOJ), would surpass Delta's merger in scope to create the largest passenger airline in terms of capacity in the United States. The passenger airline industry has struggled financially over the last decade, and these two airlines believe a merger will strengthen them. However, as with any proposed merger of this magnitude, this one will be carefully examined by DOJ to determine if its potential benefits for consumers outweigh the potential negative effects. At the Committee's request, GAO is providing a statement for the record that describes (1) an overview of the factors that are driving mergers in the industry, (2) the role of federal authorities in reviewing merger proposals, and (3) key issues associated with the proposed merger of United and Continental. To address these objectives, GAO drew from previous reports on the potential effects of the proposed merger between Delta and Northwest and the financial condition of the airline industry, and analyzed Department of Transportation (DOT) airline operating and financial data.

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