CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- All airline mergers are not created equal.
When Southwest Airlines bought AirTran Airways in 2011, the merger cost Yeager Airport a significant amount of money, said Rick Atkinson, the airport's director.
Before the merger, more than 35,000 passengers a year flew on AirTran's planes from Charleston to Orlando, Atkinson said. But Charleston was one of the first cities that lost AirTran service after the Southwest merger.
"The Southwest Air Tran merger is the only merger that has hurt us," Atkinson said. "We made money for them and [Southwest] said 'that's not how we operate our airline, we have to serve larger places.' "
Other airline mergers, including Delta Air Lines' purchase of Northwest Airlines in 2008 and United Airlines' acquisition of Continental Airlines in 2010, were "positive" for Yeager, he said.
For that reason, Atkinson said, he welcomes news of the latest merger between American Airlines and US Airways.
American Airlines and US Airways announced the $11 billion merger agreement in February. The company, which will form the world's largest airline, will operate under the American Airlines name and will be based at American's headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas.
The merger will be final within the next couple of years, Atkinson said, if it receives approval from the U.S. Justice Department antitrust regulators and US Airways shareholders.
While some big-city air routes have already seen price increases of 40 and 50 percent as a result of the merger, smaller airports, including Yeager, shouldn't expect to see such high prices, Atkinson said.
Brian Belcher, Yeager's marketing director, said the Charleston airport's fares will "be on par with any airport" that has similar competition and size.
When the merger is completed, the nation will have three major airlines of similar size -- American, United and Delta -- which is good for Yeager customers, Belcher said.
If just one of the three nearly equal-in-size carriers occupied Yeager, customers could anticipate prices going up, but because the small airport flies all three, competition is about even, he said.
"Higher prices might be true in a market where one of those carriers was a dominant one, but we have such competition here that we're going to be shielded from that," Belcher said.
"But I can't say that won't happen nationally," he added. "Competition is good for the consumer."
Competition among the three major airlines will entice them to upgrade in-flight amenities, such as better seats and wireless Internet options, Belcher said.
More than 600 new planes that American has ordered will have "main cabin extra" seating with up to 6 inches of additional leg room, according to a website for the merged airlines.
The website also promises in-flight Wi-Fi for connectivity around the world.
Atkinson said additional first-class seating could happen with the type of aircraft that will become available with the merger.
Delta is the only airline at Yeager that offers first-class service to passengers. The airline upgraded its Charleston-Atlanta service with 120-passenger DC-9 planes with first-class sections in March.
Atkinson said first-class seating in the new American planes "may be an option," but it takes a couple of years for pilots' licenses to be combined with the new system so that more planes are available.