What the Delta, Northwest 'Marriage' Means for You

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"Creating America's premier global airline" -- that's the announcement of the Delta-Northwest nuptials, from Delta's Web site.

No, I didn't get all sentimental at the news of the forthcoming "wedding" between Delta and Northwest, but I do wish them the very best.

That said, let's get down to the essentials. You have a ticket for a Delta or Northwest flight and you wonder, is it still good? Yes! Rest easy on that score.

What else is going to happen? Well, let me play "wedding planner" for a bit, and walk you through this engagement. First of all, like a lot of couples these days, this will be a fairly long engagement. It may be two or three years before these airlines "fly as one."

In fact, during the earliest stages of the relationship, passengers probably won't notice much difference at all. They'll still use their Delta tickets for Delta flights, and Northwest tickets for Northwest flights. I think people are really looking for reassurance on this score, after all the airline shutdowns in recent weeks.

And your frequent flier miles plan? It won't be changing, not anytime soon.

So again, the engagement period will move at a glacial pace. Remember, the last major merger between America West and US Airways? The announcement was made back in 2005, but the name America West kept floating around the accounting system for U.S. airline tickets until oddly enough -- Monday.

Something else to consider: It took almost five months for those airlines to gain approval for their merger and they weren't even close to becoming the world's largest airline that the Delta-Northwest monster will be. US Airways is currently the sixth largest airline in the United States.

Which leads us now to:

Parental Approval

Several government entities must weigh in on the Delta-Northwest deal, including the Departments of Justice and Transportation and the Federal Trade Commission, which must review for anti-trust issue, and that's no slam dunk. They scuttled a proposed merger between United Airlines and US Airways on those issues in 2001.

But Delta and Northwest have been working behind the scenes for many months now -- check out this new Web site they "released" Monday night -- and recently scored with temporary anti-trust approval for a joint venture between their international partners KLM and Air France (not to mention Czech Airlines and Alitalia).

Will Airfares Go Up?

No. Well, not in the short term. There will be little or no effect on pricing because the route systems of Delta and Northwest have hardly any overlap.

Besides, those insane fuel hikes are doing just fine, thank you, at driving ticket prices to record highs and beyond and this won't stop anytime soon -- not when you consider there have been more than 20 attempted airfare hikes since Labor Day.

But in the long run, this merger will mean higher prices. It's a simple matter of less competition = higher airfare.

Plus, look for more cuts in terms of domestic routes and flights; when airlines merge, they tend to cut back capacity sharply, and Delta was already doing this before the merger.

This, more than anything, will likely drive prices up for holiday travel later this year (Thanksgiving and Christmas), as well as for what are called "peak travel" times starting in early 2009.

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