The Oneworld alliance, which American co-founded in 1998, will gain traffic as US Airways leaves the Star alliance early next year. And, analysts say, American's strength in South America, particularly Brazil, will help boost business for the new American. China, however, remains a weak spot as the other two big alliances, Star and Sky Team, both have domestic Chinese carriers while Oneworld's partnership with Cathay Pacific brings passengers mainly from Hong Kong and other south Asian cities.
"They are trying to extract corporate traveler surpluses and then feed that business to the international market where most of the growth has been and where I suspect most of the profit in the future will occur," said aviation consultant Robert Mann.
Domestically, US Airways CEO Doug Parker, who will head the new American, has reiterated that the carrier plans to keep all of its hubs in New York, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Miami, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Phoenix and Los Angeles. As part of its antitrust settlement with state attorneys general, the new carrier promised to maintain service at its hubs for three years.
But that doesn't keep analysts from wondering whether the new combined airline will reduce service at a hub or two, as Delta did at the former Northwest Airlines hub in Memphis, Tenn.
"We all question whether at the end of the day there will be eight hubs standing," said Bill Swelbar, an airline researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "They need to get in and optimize their network, understand where the traffic flows, and then ask themselves the question, 'Do I need all eight or do I have some duplication of service that I can get rid of?'"
THE BUSINESS TRAVELER: Crucial to the new American's success will be the carrier's ability to woo corporate travelers who spend more on last-minute airfares and are willing to purchase amenities like extra legroom or standby access.
There is some concern among corporate travelers that American, which has traditionally catered to business customers, may not invest in products and services since US Airways executives will be running the new airline. US Airways has a reputation of focusing more on on-time performance than in-flight comforts.
"They are going to have to up their game," Harteveldt said. "Plastic cups in first class are not going to be acceptable on American."During its bankruptcy restructuring, American decided to add lie-flat seats to its first and business classes on international and transcontinental flights. It also unveiled a new brand and livery for the airline before the merger announcement.
Asked by an American employee at a November town hall meeting if Parker planned to cut back on the new customer initiatives the carrier rolled out in 2013, he said the merger will continue these initiatives.
"We will build upon the work you've done and make sure we all are headed in the same direction," Parker said, according to American. "I don't see any significant changes to the work that's being done today."THE COMPETITION: As the new American takes flight, analysts say there will be a fight for passengers.
"I just do not believe that United, Delta and Southwest are going to take the new entity laying down," Swelbar said.Southwest, the largest domestic carrier, is preparing to add long-haul flights out of its home airport, Dallas Love Field, when the Wright Amendment restrictions expire late next year, giving American more competition in its backyard.
United has smoothed out some of its operational problems that occurred in 2012 as it integrated Continental Airlines.But it is Delta that analysts say will give American formidable competition. Delta has already completed integrating Northwest Airlines from its 2008 merger and has aggressively added capacity in Seattle and Boston, where it believes it can boost traffic.
"Delta is an absolute machine," Harteveldt said. "Delta has had good on-time performance, and they have gone through all the challenges of the merger, so they are a couple of years ahead of United and they are four or five years ahead of American."