The $2.6 billion Delta-NWA deal is done, creating The World's Largest Airline. But what does it mean here?
The answer is initially nothing and beyond that the biggest change will likely involve a little reorganization at Logan and possibly the introduction of another domestic carrier there.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The combined airline, which will be called Delta, says that it hopes to be able to have its networks combined “before next summer,’’ according to Betsy Talton, an airline spokewoman. Until then, passengers who booked with either airline will continue to use that airline’s terminals; all routes and flights will continue, so passengers can continue to plan new trips on the routes each airline flies.
Longer term, the new Delta will become The Sky King at Logan, with nearly 21 percent of the passenger market share, according to Massport figures from September. But because it is followed closely by American with about 17 percent the airline’s presence won't be commanding.
Logan passengers will likely see little near-term change in service as there is no overlap in the nonstop routes either flies from here -- in fact, across their systems there is little overlap.
“When many people hear about mergers they think it’s all about cutting service,’’ Talton told me. “This one is focused more on offering customers more options.’’
Perhaps the biggest change will come in terminal assignments. Right now, Delta operates out of Terminal A and Northwest Terminal E. With this merger, Northwest will move and consolidate its operations with Delta's in Terminal A, according to Edward C. Freni, the airport's director of aviation. Freni says he expects the moves to take place as early as the end of March.
"We've been working with Delta on this for months,'' he said.
This makes a good bit of sense for all given that Delta had a bigger premerger presence (with 14.1 percent of the market vs. NWA’s 6.7 percent) and was located in the newer Terminal A, which had some open space.
From Logan's perspective this is a good deal, too. This will allow the airport to make better use of Terminal E for foreign departures, Freni said, and it clears space for Logan to try to attract another domestic carrier.
There are obviously any number of candidates and the folks at Logan would only say that they are constantly in talks with carriers. But it would make a great deal of sense if one of the carriers they have tea with is luxe discounter Virgin America. Logan wants and likes discount carriers as they offer competitive pressure to keep prices down, which, in turn, helps encourage traffic at the airport.
Executives at Virgin have said that they were interested in moving into the Boston market. Many airline watchers thought earlier this year that the carrier might be headed here as it said it would add two cities east of the Mississippi in 2008. In a February interview, Virgin CEO David Cush hinted that the lucky two could be Chicago and Boston, saying the carrier favored cities with large business centers.
Virgin finally opted for Chicago and Newark, N.J. Plans for Newark got shelved, however, because of government rules aimed at curbing air traffic in the New York area.
I asked Abby Lunardini, Virgin America director of corporate communications, what the outlook for Boston was and she said that there were "no immediate plans to enter the Boston market in 2009. We’re tapping the breaks on our growth at present given the current economic climate, so although we’re still growing ... we won’t be growing as quickly. Boston is a world-class city and important travel market and we do hope to be there eventually (it is still on our target list).''
I take her at her word, but it sounds like kismet to me.