Delta-Northwest merger nearly completeby Martin Moylan, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — With the combination of Delta and Northwest's reservation system, the saga that is the two airlines' merger is nearly complete--and it's gone pretty smoothly.
The merger of the reservation systems was one of the final steps in the integration of Northwest into Delta, creating the world's largest airline. Now, there are no more Northwest flights. Just Delta flights. The Northwest Web site is gone, too.
Delta CEO Richard Anderson says combining the reservation systems was arguably the most important milestone in the merger--more important than having joined the two airlines' pilots or frequent flier programs or aircraft fleets or anything else.
In a recent message to Delta employees, Anderson said Delta was determined to succeed where so many other airlines had stumbled.
"It was really pretty exciting to see because the airline industry has never had a successful reservation cut-over when airlines have tried to do it," Anderson said.
The history of airline mergers has not been good. Takeovers have been marked by nasty labor battles and maddening service snafus. Many Minnesotans still remember the turmoil of the merger of Northwest and Republic airlines back in the 1980s.
Anderson admits he's rather surprised how smoothly the Delta-Northwest merger has gone so far.
"It's just sort of remarkable that nothing's happened," Anderson said.
The biggest remaining merger issue seems to be the union status of some 20,000 flight attendants and ground workers at the combined airline. There will be votes down the road to resolve their union status. Northwest was heavily unionized, but Delta has not been, except for its pilots.
Delta put nearly 2,000 employees to work on the integration of the reservation systems. It required moving more than 1.5 million passenger records from the Northwest reservation system to Delta's system.
Local travel industry veterans say Delta did a great job, including Rob Harris, the owner of the Carrousel Travel American Express agency in Richfield.
"There's been some minor seat assignment mix-ups," he said. "But all in all, I would grade it very high when you consider the enormity of the situation."
Harris suspects Delta learned a lot from past industry mergers.
"I think Delta really did their homework," he said. "They looked at what worked and what didn't. And so far, they've done a great job with it."
At the Twin Cities airport, travelers seem pretty satisfied with how the Delta-Northwest merger has gone. Joe Collins of Minneapolis says he hasn't encountered any big problems.
"Some minor stuff trying to book online," he said. "And some of my co-workers had problems trying to get a seat assigned. Everything was taken care of at the airport."
Other passengers say their travels have been flawless despite the merger. Jason Friedman works for Best Buy and flies frequently on business.
"It's been very smooth for me," he said. "I travel all the time. I'm with the international team, and I travel monthly. And I haven't had any issues. It's gone great."
Other travelers concurred, like Jim Wright from Louisiana. He flew Northwest a lot through Memphis and has been delighted with Delta.
"It was a complete smooth transition," he said. <"I didn't have any problem transitioning over from Northwest to Delta."
And his overall evaluation of the merger?
"I would say excellent," he said.
Given the history of hard landings for airline mergers, that verdict is not what many people predicted for the merger. Though the potential for trouble remains, with the union votes still ahead.
One of the last remaining signs of Northwest: The signature red-tail planes will disappear by the end of this year.
- Morning Edition, 02/09/2010, 7:20 a.m.