Q&A: Delta-Northwest merger won't see big changes fast

— -- Delta Airlines dalcompleted its purchase of Northwest Airlines nwa Wednesday after the Justice Department signed off on the merger. Passengers may begin to notice changes soon, but it will likely take a couple of years before Delta and Northwest are fully combined.

Here are some answers on how the merger will affect travelers.

Q: When will travelers begin to see changes?

A: Early in 2009. The first changes will be seen in Northwest's airport signs, websites, ticket jacket covers and even employees' uniforms, which will begin to change to Delta's. The airlines say they'll have a consolidated flight schedule before next summer.

Q: What will happen to the frequent-flier programs?

A: Delta's SkyMiles program is the likely survivor, but members of Northwest's WorldPerks program will keep all the miles they've earned. Elite Delta and Northwest frequent fliers are immediately eligible for complimentary upgrades on both airlines.

Q: Will ticket prices change?

A: Prices change constantly in the airline business, but they probably won't change as a direct result of this merger. Some consumer advocacy groups argued this merger would lead to reduced competition and higher average fares than otherwise would be the case. That remains to be seen.

Q: How much do the airlines overlap?

A: Very little directly. They compete head-to-head on just 12 non-stop routes. They do compete indirectly on hundreds of one-stop and multistop domestic and international routes. Delta and Northwest will soon begin coordinating flight times, pricing and aircraft schedules to better compete for those connecting-flight passengers who might now fly other carriers.

Q: What's ahead for international travelers?

A: Northwest is particularly strong in the trans-Pacific market, and Delta's a power in the trans-Atlantic and Caribbean markets and also flies to South America.

The merged Delta will be the No. 1 or No. 2 carrier on flights between the USA and most regions of the globe. That will make it a formidable competitor in bidding for global corporate contracts and in winning consumers whose travels take them to many places.

Q: Will any hubs be closed?

A: Delta and Northwest executives say no. There are many skeptics. Considered most endangered are Delta's Cincinnati and Northwest's Memphis hubs, which already have seen deep service cuts.