"If these various carriers shrink or continue to shrink, clearly that's a scenario that provides opportunities for us to expand," Gary Kelly, Southwest's chief executive, told analysts in New York last week.
Other discount carriers such as JetBlue, Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines are also likely to take advantage of cuts in competitors' flights.
That likely means more pressure for the so-called legacy carriers such as American, those with lengthy histories, Klaskin said.
"The legacy carrier tide is going out, and the low-fare tide is coming in," he said. "This could be the beginning of the tidal wave."
Most of the large carriers are finding some relief in international flights, for which there is little competition from discount rivals and for which ticket prices remain high. Part of Delta's plan includes a 25 percent increase in international flights even as it cuts its domestic schedule.
But that shift in capacity from domestic to overseas flights also heightens competition on those routes.
Baker said Delta's plan to boost international service "will negatively impact American, Continental, Northwest and United."
To cope, the big airlines will have to continue to cut costs and find other ways to boost revenues. American and Continental are ahead of the pack, both reporting operating profits this summer despite high fuel costs.
It's impossible to predict, however, which airlines will ultimately survive and thrive. Even the low-fare airlines are threatened as they continue to grow and increasingly compete with each other.
"The low-fare carriers will be forced to learn how to manage their growth, and if they don't they won't survive," Klaskin said.
In the short term, however, there will be one group that benefits the most.
"It's going to be great for the consumer, because we'll see more penetration of low fares," he said.
IN THE KNOW
American Airlines said Friday it will cut 15 daily flights from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and Chicago O'Hare Airport due to high fuel costs. Affected flights from D/FW include:
|City||Flights cut||Remaining flights|
|Kansas City, Mo.||1||11|
SOURCE: American Airlines
IN THE KNOW
After several years of growth, airline capacity is likely to diminish with the bankruptcies of Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines.
* Available seat miles, in billions
SOURCE: Air Transport Association
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