American Airlines in alliance talks with Continental

American Airlines has had early-stage merger talks with US Airways and is in advanced talks for an alliance with Continental Airlines, sources briefed on the situation said yesterday.

News of the talks comes after Delta Air Lines' and Northwest Airlines' announced nearly two weeks ago they planned to merge to become the world's largest airline, seeking to counter skyrocketing fuel prices, a weak economy and a growing competitive threat from European carriers as trade barriers fall on trans-Atlantic travel. American Airlines' talks with Continental are focused on forming an alliance that could share passengers, much like the SkyTeam partnership that includes Air France-KLM, Alitalia, Czech Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and Northwest Airlines, the sources said.

Alliances have flourished in the industry because they generate profits through marketing programmes and flight code-sharing without the headaches of combining operations. But Continental is also in advanced talks with United Airlines for a full merger, the sources said. Continental will choose either the merger or the alliance, not both, sources said.

Meanwhile, United Airlines is also in serious merger talks with US Airways, and will choose to merge with either Continental or US Airways soon, the sources said.

American's talks with US Airways were not serious at this point, one person said.

Aviation expert Bob Mann said a US Airways-American Airlines merger would not be a marquee matchup and give American little extra depth overseas.