Thank you for your question. I would encourage you to think about two requirements when handling this issue. First, a majority of states have naming requirements for limited liability corporations and regular corporations that would prevent you from using a name that was already taken by a registered corporate entity in the state. If your competitor is incorporated or was formed in your state, it is more likely than not that you will not be able to reserve your desired name.
On the trademark issue, I assume you are speaking about federal, not state, trademark protection. If so, your mark cannot be too similar to an existing trademark. In determining whether the mark is too similar the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will look to the strength of the airline’s mark, the lowercase-uppercase distinction, the similarities between your startup and the airline, and evidence of consumer confusion or belief that your firm is affiliated with the airline. Assuming that the airline has registered its name with the USPTO, I would predict that you would be unable to trademark the name. I would not despair, though, because each federal circuit court in the United States (there are eleven) has a different test for assessing whether one trademark is too similar to another. If you message me with the state where the startup is registered, I can provide you with more definite advice on (1) whether you can register the name with an LLC or corporate application and (2) whether you can keep your preferred name without worrying about a trademark suit. I hope this helps.
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