By Charles Leocha Travel columnist
updated 10/13/2006 1:02:24 PM ET 2006-10-13T17:02:24

Four major airlines are fighting for the right to serve a new route between the United States and China. Of the four, only American Airlines has been a good corporate citizen. Only American Airlines has remained out of bankruptcy. Only American Airlines has been steadfastly honorable in its dealings with employees and suppliers. That alone should make American Airlines the runaway winner of this route.

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It is about time that good corporate citizenship was rewarded.

The four airlines fighting for this new and potentially lucrative route are American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Northwest Airlines and United Airlines.

American proposes service from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, in Texas, to Beijing. Continental is offering service from Newark Airport, in New Jersey, to Shanghai. Northwest is recommending service from Detroit to Shanghai. United is pushing what it calls “capital-to-capital service” between Dulles Airport, which serves the Washington, D.C., area and Beijing.

Each airline is employing election-year tactics, contacting travelers and asking that they send letters to the Department of Transportation and their senators and representatives to encourage acceptance of their proposals. It is a public relations free-for-all. But, you won’t hear the corporate citizenship card being played. That seems to be the corporate equivalent of hitting below the belt.

American Airlines presents a compelling case even if its corporate citizenship credentials are ignored. Its new service would create a completely new route through one of the best connecting airports in the country. There is no gateway airport in the South. The route would most effectively serve the southern tier of the United States, which is the fastest growing area of the country. According to American Airlines, it would provide one-stop service from 95 airports across the country, including first-time one-stop service from 30 airports.

Continental Airlines already has a regular nonstop flight from Newark to Beijing, so it doesn’t really add anything to the equation. Plus, the Continental hub in Newark is the airline’s secondary hub, with far fewer same-airline connections than are offered through Dallas/Fort Worth, American’s hub.

Northwest already has service to all these airports in China through its hub in Tokyo. It also has the worst management-employee relations of the four airlines. Its way through bankruptcy has been rocky, even from a bankruptcy court point-of-view.

United Airlines is a poster child for how not to run an airline. It has slashed its workforce, lavished money on its executives, abandoned its worker pension program and saddled the country with billions of dollars of retirement obligations that should be its own responsibility. And United is still bleeding red ink even after these drastic measures.

Historically, Northwest and United have had the lion’s share of the China market. Even with these lucrative routes, both airlines are in the throes of current- and post-bankruptcy efforts. Mismanagement aside, it is time for the Department of Transportation to spread the wealth from these two dominant airlines to others.

Though the other airlines in the competition can make detailed claims supporting their petitions, the America Airlines proposal is the most groundbreaking approach, opening more of the country — the fastest-growing part of the country — to easy one-stop and nonstop air transportation to China. Taking corporate citizenship, management principles and financial strength also into account, American Airlines clearly stands alone at the top of the heap.

If you agree with me, check out the petition to support the American Airlines application for nonstop service between Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) and Beijing, China.


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