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Delta/Northwest Marriage: What Does It Mean?

Carol Sottili

Should the Delta/Northwest merger go through, the jury is still out on what type of effects it will have on the regular schmoe trying to make his way back home.

Will frequent-flier mile programs change? Will more fees be charged? Will there be less competiton and higher fares out of our area airports?

Let's tackle those miles first. Both airlines are saying that they'll honor each others' miles. Northwest sent me an email last night that read, in part, "You can be assured that your WorldPerks miles and Elite program status will be unaffected by this merger. In addition, you can continue to earn miles through use of partners like WorldPerks Visa®. And once the new Delta Air Lines emerges you can look forward to being a part of the world's largest frequent flyer program with expanded benefits."

In the short run, the merger may benefit those who hold frequent-flier miles in both programs, as miles from both will most likely be combined. Both airlines have been in an alliance since 2003, so there mileage award charts line up fairly closely: 25,000 miles for a continental coach ticket, 50,000 to Europe. Skeptics are wondering whether those requirements will go up when/if the merger occurs. I've been telling readers for some time to use their miles, and that advice stands regardless of whether the merger is successful.

On to fees. Delta is the king of the fees. While the airline didn't start the fee frenzy, it not only jumped right in, but it raised the ante. The airline recently upped fees on everything from unaccompanied minors to pets to luggage to phone ticketing. Northwest also instituted some new fees, but they are generally lower than Delta's. If merger succeeds, I think it's safe to say that the higher fees will go across-the-board.

As for competitition, the two airlines don't compete on many routes out of our area airports. There is no overlap between the airlines on nonstop flights. Delta is more of a player out of our area, with nonstop flights to 15 destinations out of the three airports (BWI, National & Dulles). Northwest offers nonstop flights to eight cities. So there is no obvious market that would suffer in the short run from less competition. But both airlines do serve some offbeat destinations. Will they streamline resources and eliminate flights to such cities as Madison, Wis., and Huntsville, Ala.? Anyone's bet.

What are your concerns about the merger?

By Carol Sottili |  April 15, 2008; 11:12 AM ET  | Category:  Air Travel , Airline Industry , Carol Sottili
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This is probably not an issue for many business travelers, but I'm really concerned by this news because Delta is, hands-down, the worst in the industry for accommodating passengers who are deathly allergic to peanuts.

Yes, I'm one of those people. If I'm in the cabin and they're serving peanuts, my throat begins to close. Sometimes it's mild, sometimes it's severe, but it's never pleasant. Even with advance notice, Delta refuses to serve an alternate snack on my flight (they used to - this was before the Georgia peanut lobby got them to push back from this policy). Their way to "accommodate" me is to serve an alternate snack only in the row in which I'm seated -- and they rarely adhere to this rule.

After too many allergic reactions in the air, and too many incidents in which I ended up at my business destination too hopped up on medication to be of any use, I have sworn off from flying Delta. Now it looks like Delta will be even harder to avoid.

Posted by: Death by Peanuts | April 15, 2008 12:50 PM

Since I fly out of MSP these days, I am concerned about how this impacts that airport.

MSP is pretty much the airport that Northwest built. 85% of its flights are NW. If Delta decides to economize by eliminating runs, I've got a sneaking suspicion that it won't be flights coming out of Atlanta.

Yeah, we cashed in frequent flyer miles last year. But my husband travels for business and he's racking 'em right back up. I foresee him trying to get a lot of first class upgrades in the near future.

As for the smaller airports - the ones you mentioned *are* serviced by other airlines. They are medium sized cities with some industry - there may be less flights, but they'll have them.

It's the truly small airports (there are many regional hops from MSP to smaller airports in Wisconsin and Minnesota, where the road system isn't necessarily robust) that may encounter problems. NWA had already jacked up the cost of these flights by a factor of 10 since the Chapter 11 days - I'm sure they'll price themselves right out of the market now.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | April 15, 2008 1:17 PM

At least it's better than the merger that created Northwest Airlines in the first place. Northwest Orient's purchase of Republic, in 1986, gave the new company fortress hubs at MSP and DTW. How that passed antitrust I'll never know.

As a condition of the DL-NW merger's going through, I'd like to see either of these two cities dehubbed--to restore some semblance of competitive balance.

Posted by: Matt | April 15, 2008 1:54 PM

RE: Matt's de-hubbing point - pick whichever airport gets the worse weather and make it a spoke.

I'm more worried about my best friend, who signed on as a NW flight attendant two weeks ago. Last hired is pretty much guaranteed to be first fired; anybody care to take bets on layoffs? I'll be impressed if they keep his class around long enough to earn a paycheck.

Posted by: BxNY | April 15, 2008 3:18 PM

I'm generally happy about this, having originally accrued a lot of miles on NWA but now finding myself using Delta a lot more. I do wonder like the previous posters about what will happen between MSP and DTW and if both will remain hubs. DTW seems just as dependent on NWA as MSP if not moreso.

Death, I'm sorry to hear of your allergy situation. I'd really prefer pretzels myself (if only they had a lobby in GA!) With allergies of this sort seeming to become increasingly common, maybe we can hope that Delta will soon go back to being more accommodating of such passengers as yourself.

Posted by: Jimbo | April 15, 2008 3:27 PM

Two of the absolute worst airlines for customer service. The combo will not bode well for customers and it may turn out that the combined carrier continues to bleed money. To get any significant savings, they'll need to close hubs. Delta has been cutting back in Cincinnati & Salt Lake. I wouldn't be surprised to see at least one of those go (probably Cincy, it's near low fare carrier airports like Dayton and too close to Detroit & Memphis).

Posted by: Rich | April 15, 2008 5:29 PM

I racked up some Continental frequent flier miles, planning to use them on NWA out of MSP. My Dad told me he suspected they would no longer be valid on NWA, but perhaps on United, another Continental partner. Any ideas? Thanks, Peter

Posted by: Peter Shakman | April 23, 2008 4:26 PM

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