Travelers generally sanguine about mergerby Martin Moylan, Minnesota Public Radio
It has been about 20 years since Minnesotans last experienced a merger involving Eagan-based Northwest Airlines. It was not pleasant. Northwest's merger with Republic Airlines was fraught with labor unrest and service snafus. Now, Northwest may be poised to merge with Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines. But travelers do not seem too upset about the prospect of the carrier merging again.
St. Paul, Minn. — Despite heavy news coverage a good number of people you run into at the airport have not been paying attention to all those rumors about airline mergers. It is just media noise to them. Meanwhile, those who have heard the talk about mergers do not seem too worried about what could happen. At least not for now.
Chuck Cavanaugh is in the process of moving from Las Vegas to Minneapolis. He does not see much at stake for travelers like him. Cavanaugh seems to figure the market will give travelers what they need and want.
"It'll sort itself out," he says. "Somehow there'll be planes flying. I'm sure. Someone may be richer or poorer in the process. But the planes will still fly. I'm sure of that."
Michelle Corrigan says she does not care if there is a merger, but Corrigan is aware a merger can cause customer service to slide, as airlines combine operations.
"Well, there's always a concern when you're combining two companies of any disruption in service," she says. "So, certainly that could be a possibility."
But that possibility is not enough for Corrigan to oppose a merger.
"I wouldn't have a problem with it. My biggest concern would be any job loss," she says.
Some travelers, though, expect the odds are better than even that a merger would lead to labor and service troubles. Especially if many jobs are cut or the combined airline cannot resolve conflicts about differing wage scales, union representation and job security.
Roger Anderson of Prior Lake believes there could be a repeat of the troubles Northwest had when it merged with Republic about 20 years ago.
"I remember with the unions, the uproar of the mechanics and baggage handlers and lost luggage," he says.
US Airways, which merged with America West in 2005, has seen on-time rates below the industry average and above-average numbers for lost luggage this year.
Reduced competition and potential fare hikes concern travelers, too. With good reason, it seems. Airlines say they hope mergers will allow them to boost fares. The airlines lament airfares are less than they should be, especially with oil recently at $100 a barrel.
That argument does not get much sympathy from Ed Coyle of Anchorage, Alaska. This time of year, Coyle says Northwest is his only option for a non-stop flight between Anchorage and the Twin Cities. Coyle opposes a merger of Northwest and Delta.
"Well, I'd think it'd be more of a monopoly than anything. And when you have a monopoly you don't have fair competition on your prices," he says.
Industry analysts and consultants believe the Twin Cities hub will be safe in a merger. They do not see Northwest doing much to scale back flights or destinations. And many travelers agree with that analysis, even though they may lament Northwest's fares are already too high.
"We would still have a hub here, and we'd still be paying more than everyone else," says Bill Kaplan of Arden Hills.
Kaplan does not see Northwest loosening its hold on the Twin Cites airport and its passengers. But he says Northwest has to get bigger and stronger to survive.
"I think it's important for Northwest because if they don't merge, they'll be an also-ran," he says. "And in this business environment, they need to be a larger competitive airline in order to survive."
That argument resonates with Joe Kapolka of Shorewood. He would like to see airlines post steady profits and put some of that money into improving customer service and labor relations.
"There are too many carriers and given the lack of amenities on these flights, the lack of legroom for those of us over five-foot-two. I'd just like to see a carrier make money for a change and turn around and reinvest that in their employees and the flying public," he says.
Some travelers feel it is important for the Twin Cities to hold on to Northwest's corporate headquarters should there be a merger. The headquarters confers some status on the Twin Cities and provides about 2,300 good-paying jobs.
Janet McMillan is among the travelers who want Northwest to remain a hometown airline.
"I would hope that Northwest wouldn't merge," she says. "That would be my first choice. With Delta, that would be fine with me. But I hope they would keep the main office here in Minnesota. It would be awful if we lost Northwest."
Northwest and Delta continue to be mum about their merger talks. Delta is also reportedly discussing a possible merger with United Airlines.
- All Things Considered, 01/23/2008, 5:50 p.m.