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Alliances in the sky

| Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2003

The US Airways-United Airlines alliance that links their flights through a single booking became fully operational on Tuesday — the same day transportation officials threatened to dismantle a competing, three-way pact US Airways dubs the "Outlaw Alliance."

Pittsburgh passengers also could gain access to about 800 foreign destinations this summer, when US Airways plans to join an international alliance led by United, said a US Airways executive.

"With our entry into the Star Alliance, it should put Pittsburgh on the global platform," said Brent McNamara, US Airways regional sale director. The Star Alliance consists of United and 16 other major airlines.

The marketing agreement with United currently allows US Airways passengers to fly to 79 more destinations by connecting to United flights without buying additional tickets or rechecking bags. The alliance, which the two airlines struck in late July, had been introduced in stages.

Meanwhile, a similar code-sharing alliance between Delta, Northwest and Continental airlines was rebuked by the U.S. Department of Transportation yesterday.

Officials threatened to have the entire agreement overturned in federal court after the three airlines pursued the alliance without the restrictions that the Transportation Department initially had laid down because too many routes overlapped.

The three major carriers declared they would proceed to implement their plan — without the government conditions — on Jan. 21, prompting US Airways to dub the marketing pact the "Outlaw Alliance."

Yesterday, Transportation officials reacted to the bravado by vowing to block the entire alliance.

By contrast, the US Airways-United deal flew past regulators because their route networks rarely overlap. United passengers, for instance, will be able to fly to 188 new destinations in the East and the Caribbean by connecting on US Airways flights.

"This provides a plethora of flight combinations," McNamara said. "It's a virtual network."

He also termed as "conservative" initial estimates that the code-sharing agreement with United would mean about $100 million a year in extras revenue for US Airways.

McNamara said US Airways' admission to the Star Alliance does not require government approvals. It only needs a nod from the alliance members, who stand to gain by effectively extending their route networks through US Airways' system.

"It creates an opportunity for foreign travelers to come to Pittsburgh, which is important for businesses here and for the Pittsburgh community in general," McNamara said.

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