Airline mergers are all the rave now. In reality, they are talked up by Wall Street suits in order to generate fees. Trust me, they don’t really do all that much for you and me. In theory, I lean Republican. I’m all for business combinations, and frankly, airline mergers look pretty good on a spreadsheet. But when the rubber meets the runway….that’s where airline mergers go wrong. They are great in theory, put pretty difficult to pull off in practicality.

Just because airline A flies A320’s and airline B flies A320’s doesn’t mean that they have common fleets. The galley layouts are usually different, the seat layouts are usually different, and the engines can even be different. And I won’t even talk about combining organized employee groups….that deserves its own post…or perhaps a book.

Believe it or not, I’ve been tinkering with what to say about this subject for days now. I worked for one great big airline that bought two airlines while I was working for them. One rather small (Reno Air), and the other, not so small (TWA). From a high-level, these deals looked good on paper. Reno operated a small fleet of MD-80’s, American operated the world’s largest fleet of MD-80’s. What’s a few more airframes of the same type? Well, no two airlines’ aircraft are the same, even if they are the same type. The Reno buyout led to the great sickout of AA pilots, impacting thousands of travelers for days.

Then there was TWA. A deal that was only done in response to the United-USAirways merger. Of course, who knew that the United deal would falter, and then 9-11 would happen? As we now know, AA wound up shelving TWA’s St. Louis hub for the most part. And even worse, most of
TWA’s employees wound up on the street as the industry and the airline downsized. Ah, the memories.

In any event, it sounds as if a Delta-NWA deal is in the works. While the whole thing could fall apart, I expect that something is going to get announced. And when it does…look out. Expect the rest of the industry to look for a partner to tie up with in short order. I imagine that there is a general view that if deals don’t get done under this Justice Department, they won’t happen. So most execs see this as their last shot at making something happen. Go ahead and pop the popcorn. It’s going to get cute. I have more to say….. as soon as I organize my thoughts.