Love Is in the Air

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Ah, spring, when an enterprise's thoughts turn to mating. And the contagion of corporate couplings that's currently making the nation's banking community look a little like a Moonie wedding appears to be spreading to the airline sector. First Northwest bought a chunk of Continental; then American and US formed an alliance. Proving the course of true love doesn't always run smooth, United and Delta abruptly called off a planned deal of their own.

Why are the nation's top airlines coming together via alliances rather than full mergers? "Alliances create effective mergers, but they avoid the stronger regulatory practices that apply to full mergers," says TIME correspondent Daniel Kadlec.

So does the romance of shared routes, ticketing and frequent flyer miles lead to the pitter-patter of lower fares? Well, not exactly: "The alliances may simplify travel, but reducing competition always carries the risk of raising prices," says Kadlec. The market, after all, has a heart of stone.