Airline Merger Mania: Bigger Not Always Better

These are the times that try fliers' souls!

First, we had to swallow the concept of code-sharing, the game in which you buy a ticket on a specific carrier but have no idea what airline will actually be waiting for you at the gate.

Then, we were subjected to a perplexing, ever-changing kaleidoscope of frequent flier programs cooperating with other frequent flier programs, some of which honor other airline miles part of the time on certain routes on alternate Thursdays (until they change the plan), and some of which might let you use your credit card miles for a one-way ticket to Paris the three days per year the route isn't "embargoed."

And now, U.S. Airways (which isn't really U.S. Airways any longer since America West bought it) wants to buy bankrupt Delta and turn it into … Delta.

Only, you see, it wouldn't really be Delta anymore, because by then it would be a mixture of America West and U.S. Airways combined with Delta's monster airline fleet in Atlanta, all of which might save imperiled Delta from eventual shutdown and liquidation.

Confused? Hang on.

If this proposed Delta buyout actually happens, it will create the world's largest airline. We're talking huge, and anyone who has ever tried to complain to any aspect of big corporate America about anything knows that bigger is not necessarily better.

Even more worrisome is the prospect that a U.S. Airways-Delta marriage will also trigger a new round of major airline mergers with an overall result that will not be good news for passengers.

But what's wrong with a revitalized Delta plucked from penury by the largess of $8 billion (in stock) from U.S. Airways-America West? Wouldn't it mean more planes, more flights, and more happy, friendly people eager to provide superlative service at every gate?

Not if recent history and human nature is our guide.

First, while any change in the workplace will be automatically resisted by those employees who find change threatening by definition, the serious psychological impact of a megamerger on tens of thousands of airline employees -- including pilots -- has historically created decimated attitudes that in turn can breed the "I'm afraid you've got me confused with someone who gives a damn" school of customer service.

In other words, mergers rife with cutbacks, layoffs and consolidations seldom, if ever, improve morale in the short term. And, in the case of Delta, we're talking about the morale of a work force that has already been rocked by bankruptcy, not to mention the previous threat that Delta management might follow United Airlines' lead in dumping their obscenely underfunded pension plans (many believe both underfunding and dumping pension plans should have been made federal criminal offenses decades ago).

Second, even in the best orchestrated mergers, the level of confusion that swirls for years around everything from the airline's Web sites, credit cards and job culture to the relocated reservations centers (sometimes in India), work rules and thousands of potentially conflicting procedures, are enough to force Job into analysis.

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