European regulators back American Airline's joint venture

-- July 15--With only a final OK from U.S. regulators to go, American Airlines Inc. and two of its Oneworld partners are nearly set to launch their joint venture across the North Atlantic. The European Commission on Wednesday...

In addition, the growth of two competing groups of airlines, the Star Alliance and SkyTeam, has changed the competitive picture across the North Atlantic, as has consolidation that reduced the number of international competitors, he said.

Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., which has been battling a BA-American alliance for half its 26 years in existence, sharply criticized the EC's announcement Wednesday.

Half of Virgin Atlantic's flights start or end at Heathrow.

"We have fought this monster monopoly for the past 13 years and are still resolute in our belief that this decision is shameful and consumers will suffer greatly as a result of this deal," Virgin Atlantic president Richard Branson said.

"The European Commission has let consumers down by agreeing to paltry remedies which are wholly inadequate," he said.

In his statement, British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh said the many flights added in London since the 2008 U.S.-Europe agreement "demonstrates that Heathrow is open."

"We await the DOT's final decision but welcome this important and vital step forward," Walsh said.

"Between us, we have agreed to make available Heathrow slot pairs for our competitors to use on services to the U.S. This is a pragmatic decision so that we can get the joint business up and running as soon as possible," Walsh said.

And, in another win for British Airways and Iberia, the European Commission approved those two carriers' planned merger.

How the alliance between American Airlines, British Airways and Iberia may affect Dallas/Fort Worth travelers:

Fares: Don't expect a big change in fare policies between D/FW and London. American and British Airways, the only to airlines to fly the route nonstop, have already been close buddies in the Oneworld alliance. For price competition, North Texas customers will still have to rely on connecting service through other cities.

Flights: No new D/FW flights have been announced. However, BA in December will replace its 229-seat Boeing 777 on the route with 329-seat Boeing 747s. That will increase seats on the route this winter by 14 percent, from 701 each direction to 801.

Connecting service: The three carriers will greatly expand the number of "code share" flights, effectively putting their names and numbers on each other's flights. That'll let American sell many more European destinations as if they were its own.

Corporate sales: The partners will be able to sell their products jointly to corporate customers. Local employers may get discounts and incentives for travel on American, BA and Iberia.

Frequent-flier programs: Members of American's AAdvantage program will be able to earn miles and cash in rewards on BA and Iberia, and vice versa.

SOURCES: The airlines; Dallas Morning News research

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