Would an American-US Airways merger be good for gay travelers?

Posted by Troy Petenbrink
February 8, 2013 3:00 PM |

American_Airlines_Makeover.jpgThe buzz about a merger between American Airlines and US Airways has gone sonic. Major media outlets such as CBS and The Wall Street Journal are reporting that an announcement could happen as early as next week.

This news is prompting some to question if such a merger would be good for the LGBT community.

American was the first airline to receive a 100 percent Corporate Equality Index rating from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, and is one of only nine companies to achieve the perfect score annually since the inception of the index in 2002. 

A founding member of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and a corporate partner with the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, American has a designated marketing team and website to serve gay and lesbian travelers. It was also the first airline to endorse passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. 

In the early 2000s , US Airways actively wooed the LGBT community. It formed a strategic marketing agreement with Gay.com and had designated staff to target LGBT travelers. However, its efforts have been off the radar in recent years.

US Airways has not been a member of IGLTA since 2006 and has never joined the NGLCC. And while it did maintain a top rating on HRC's CEI, its score dropped in 2012 and 2013 for lack of transgender-inclusive health insurance coverage. To its credit, US Airways did follow American's lead in supporting ENDA.

John Tanzella, president and CEO of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, believes that US Airway would be wise to maintain American's agressive LGBT-inclusive marketing efforts.

"American Airlines, over many years, has established itself as a leader in LGBT tourism and hospitality," said Tanzella. “It would be beyond a shame for US Airways to lose the foothold American has established and the revenue it has gained from conferences, events and business travel among the LGBT community. American has a very loyal LGBT following that would be at risk."

Michael Bento, a D.C. resident, is an example of a gay American Airlines loyalist. He is a premium level frequent flier with the carrier and values its support of the LGBT community.

"Any of the major carriers can typically get me to where I want to go, so the fact that a carrier values my business enough to actively court me helps shape my choice of who to give my money." says Bento. "If the potential new American stopped being as active with it support of my community, it would certainly make me question my continued support of them."

For D.C. resident and American Airlines supporter James Ellzy, customer service is his biggest concern. He supports companies that are gay-friendly, but as a frequent flier he says has to focus on a carrier's reliabilty in getting him from point A to point B. 

As these high-flying entities negotiate a possible merger, the LGBT demographic is not irrelevant. Experts value the U.S. LGBT travel market at $50 billion to $65 billion. A non-disclosure agreement between American Airlines and US Airways prevents either party from commenting on the merger. Should the merger transpire as expected, US Airways will take over American and assume its name and branding. The resulting company would be the world's largest airline.

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