When that time comes, the training will take time and money.
"These equipment are not like cars, where you can just jump out of a Ford and go drive a Chevy," Ray says, adding that it can take roughly six weeks to train a pilot on a new piece of equipment. "You may be able to fly a Boeing 737 but not be able to even start an Airbus 320. It's like learning a foreign language."
Questions of seniority and which unions will represent a unified staff aside, many analysts including Hegeman agree that the big labor issues that could derail a smooth merger already are solved.
Last month, US Airways' flight attendants reached a deal that will have them all working under a single contract for the first time. Previously, flight attendants who'd worked for US Airways or America West before their merger had separate contracts.
"Now that the flight attendants have ratified their agreements at US Airways, all the major unions are on board," Hegeman says. "This is going to give this particular merger a real head start."
Who's in charge here?
A big key to a successful merger is which corporate culture will dominate.
Workers have to feel unified and content to take good care of customers, and given the tense relationship that a pre-merger American had with its employees, US Airways' culture is expected to prevail, Hegeman says.
But American likely will set the pace in other, visible, ways -- from a more perk-filled flying experience, to continued use of its branded credit card and reservations system.
"Given the scale and complexity that American manages today with their systems," says industry consultant Thomas, "you know that system is capable of absorbing a US Airways."
Whatever the new American looks like, and however long it takes for that transition to be completed, Blane Aarup is looking foward to it.
"I like the American routes and additional places I can get to (now) without switching airlines," says Aarup, an Internet company CEO based in Greenville, N.C., who's an elite flier with US Airways "I see nothing but positives from this merger."
As jet-fuel prices soar and Delta battles to lift itself from bankruptcy protection, members who cherish their SkyMiles have a lot of worries.
One thing is certain for the airline industry next year: There will be fewer flights.