The big, legacy airlines either need to consolidate or die. That’s a given. And United (UAUA) desperately needs a carrier that can get it southern routes and more international slots. That leaves Delta (NYSE:DAL) and Continental (CAL).
Continental has long been rumored as a merger partner, but Delta, per the current rumor, makes just as much sense because of its strong southern exposure after Pardus Capital — a Delta holder — encouraged Delta to talk to United. (Try to get from San Diego to South Florida on United and it’s virtually impossible.)
However, mergers create dislocation because of differing cultures, computers and equipment. (Would the acquired Delta planes, for example, really get Economy Plus, which gives fliers extra legroom? That’s why I’m generally loyal to United.) Short-term, post integration, would be a nightmare for everybody.
But here’s a bigger problem: Not that long ago Delta rejected a bid from US Airways (LCC), which itself was just going through indigestion from its merger with America West. If it rejected USAir, why would it go with United? If it does, you can expect its employees to be among the first to cry foul, which in turn would affect morale.
However, as fliers know, employee morale among the airlines appears to be the last thing that matters to airline management, save perhaps Southwest (NYSE:LUV) and Jet Blue (NASDAQ:JBLU). (Where’s Gordon Bethune, ex-CEO of Continental, when you need him? As one reader notes: He’s advising Pardus!)
Delta, for its part, says it’s not in discussions with United.