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The Delta-Northwest Merger and You

Carol Sottili

Delta Air Lines has acquired Northwest Airlines for $2.8 billion. What does it mean for travelers? Not much...yet.

Both airlines issued statements stressing business as usual. Travelers will continue to book and buy tickets through the airlines' respective phone numbers/Web sites. They'll check in with the airline they're flying. Members of Northwest's WorldPerks and Delta's Skymiles will continue to earn miles with their programs. The only immediate changes: Elite members of each airline's loyalty program will receive complimentary upgrades in both programs, and will be allowed to use both airlines' airport lounges.

By the end of the year, Delta's code will be added to Northwest's system, creating more connecting flights, and, by summer 2009, the airlines' flight schedules will be consolidated, according to a statement from Delta. Within the next two years, the loyalty programs will be consolidated "including the ability to combine miles from SkyMiles and WorldPerks accounts at a one-to-one ratio." The merged airline will keep Delta's name.

The acquisition came after a six-month U.S. Justice Department investigation into claims that the merger would hurt consumers. The investigation's results, released Wednesday, concluded the merger "is likely to produce substantial and credible efficiencies that will benefit U.S. consumers and is not likely to substantially lessen competition."

Not everyone agrees with that assessment. A lawsuit was brought by 28 travelers to block the deal, but it was settled for undisclosed terms. And the Business Travel Coalition has opposed the merger, saying it will mean higher fares and fewer connections from mid-size cities.

I could argue either side. Fewer airlines generally means higher fares, but that premise is especially true when the airlines compete head on between the same cities. Northwest and Delta do overlap on some routes, but not most. From our region's airports, Northwest is a smaller player and flies mostly to the Midwest and West, while Delta offers more service to destinations in the South.

By Carol Sottili |  October 31, 2008; 9:41 AM ET  | Category:  Carol Sottili
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As someone who lives near MSP - which means NWA is my primary airline - can't say I'm thrilled.

Not that "Northworst" is the best airline in the world, but when you flew in and out of MSP, it was actually decent service because it is the major hub and location of the headquarters. We never had a problem with lost luggage, there was always a NWA rep somewhere around to help you out, and staffing problems (i.e. - getting people when union rules said certain staff had fulfilled their weekly travel time) were low.

But I have always hated flying on Delta, and it's going to be interesting to see how the service deteriorates. I'm pretty sure that the local service to our regional airport to MSP is probably going to go away, which will s*ck mightily. We didn't always use it, but in emergencies (when we were already paying way too much for tickets), it was nice to have the option to fly in and out of a regional airport around the corner.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | October 31, 2008 11:33 AM

Maybe now the new Nodelwest will try to route me through MSP instead of ATL to fly to Boston.

Posted by: kbockl | October 31, 2008 1:07 PM

It will be interesting to see what happens to the airport hubs of Cincinati, memphis, and either minneapolis or detroit.

Since Delta is taking over and its headquarters will stay there, atlanta is safe. salt Lake city is safe given the location. I feal delta to be fare will sacrifice cincinati and northwest will sacrifice minneapolis. I know delta amd mprthwest have minor hubs for internationalroutes.

You will see route changes. It will be interesting to see what route service and which ones die.

You will see airfares go up significantly in the midwest and southeast area which are dominated be northwests pinnacle airlines and deltas comair airlines. With many of these cities market share will go above 50% which will be a serious fare concern.

Posted by: djp98374 | November 3, 2008 5:47 PM


I disagree - I don't think either MSP or Memphis will be fully sacrificed, and I think MSP will actually keep more prominence than Memphis.

While Memphis - while a NWA hub - services passengers, it's primary business is actually as a cargo airport for FedEx. And Memphis is surrounded by other cities with decent sized airports within a 2-4 hour drive radius.

Minneapolis/St. Paul is the now former headquarters for NWA, and is one of the largest employers in the area. And, apparently, it is still seen to be as such through the next 5 years, which says to me the airport will still thrive as a hub (if, perhaps, a lessened one). Also, the closest airport to MSP is O'Hare - a nearly 8 hour drive for a Twin Cities resident. It's the biggest game in town for Minnesota and Western Wisconsin, not to mention Northern Iowa and the Dakotas.

Not to mention - not that Memphis doesn't have many businesses headquartered there, but the Twin Cities has Target, 3M, Best Buy, and several large financial groups. You see a lot of business travel through MSP.

It doesn't make sense for Delta to kill the larger passenger airport that gives them a hub in the upper Midwest. Actually, I think the hubs actually complement each other pretty well - it gives Delta strength in hubs to allow for more flexibility. You may see some consolidation, but not as much as you might think.

As for fare increases - sure, we'll see them. But if they raise them too much, there are still smaller airlines - like Southwest, which is starting up in MSP in early 2009, to keep them competitive.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | November 4, 2008 10:20 AM

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