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The government says airlines prey on consumers. That’s the government’s fault.

At every juncture, this was predicted. When Delta and Northwest sought to merge in 2008, consumer groups noted the tie-up would be the “canary in the coal mine” that, if allowed, would lead to “radical consolidation” across the industry and hand carriers significant market power. Regardless, DOJ let them merge. When United and Continental followed suit in 2010, public interest advocates pointed out that the merger would lead the companies to raise fares, slash routes and abandon hubs, hurting Midwestern cities in particular. Again, DOJ let them merge. Finally, after the airlines had exhausted nearly all possible mergers, it seemed that DOJ had learned its lesson. In August 2013, the government sued to block the proposed tie-up between American Airlines and US Airways.