Friday, January 16, 2009

Delta’s Paint Job on Northwest 747-400
Posted by Matt Phillips
See the Northwest 747-400 painted in 3.5 minutes to Delta livery
Judging from the sheer number of comments to our paltry post on Delta dipping the first of Northwest’s red-tailed 747-400s in Delta blue, we figured we’d follow up a little and offer a new picture, which Delta posted in its Flickr pool. (As a side note, the Middle Seat Terminal has one too. And we need more people to contribute.) One of our commenteers on that previous post raised the issue of whether it might be tricky for Air Traffic Control to keep Delta and Northwest flights straight as the two gradual become one “new” Delta. “I wonder how much confusion this will cause when ATC tells pilots to look for an NWA aircraft which may or may not be painted in Delta colors.
I guess the controllers will have to ask what paint scheme the [aircraft] has,” wrote one commenter, who identified himself as “Bob the NWA Pilot.” As it turns out, the John Croft over at FlightGlobal wrote a bit about that not too long ago:

Until the merging operating certificates under the Delta banner is complete, pilots and controllers handling Northwest flights will continue to use the “Northwest” aircraft call sign and the “NWA” three-letter identifier in flight plan, regardless of the paint scheme of the aircraft, says the FAA.
The policy calls for pilots of flights carrying Northwest call signs but painted in Delta colours to include the phrase “Delta colours” at the end of certain radio calls and on written flight plans.
FAA says the temporary policy, effective for one year starting 14 December, is required to avoid confusion when Delta and Northwest aircraft “are communicating with air traffic control but are not painted in the colours of the airline matching the call sign they are using.”

Ah the joys of merging. For more on other aspects of operations that can get tangled when two airlines decided to tie the knot, check out this post that follows .....
Five Issues Delta-Northwest Marriage Could Face
Posted by Matt Phillips

It’s well established that airline mergers aren’t always smooth affairs. Here are five things that the executives tasked with creating a “new” Delta out of the Atlanta-based carrier and Northwest have likely been considering for months — and why travelers should care.
Reservation glitches: Merging hundreds of routes and reservations is no easy task. It took quite a while for US Airways, which merged with America West back in 2005, to straighten out its schedule.
Back in October 2007, Scott wrote a column in which US Airways CEO Doug Parker said some issues arose as a result of an effort to unify US Airways and America West’s reservation system. “Reservations were lost, flights were delayed and many customers fumed in long lines. For many months, US Airways had two separate check-in lines depending on whether your reservation was made through the old US Airways system or the America West system,” Scott wrote.

Pilot issues: In past mergers, seniority integration has been a major sticking point leading to litigation and years of bad feelings. (Seniority determines pay and schedules for pilots.) Some Northwest pilots have been around long enough to remember the hostility that followed that carrier’s 1986 acquisition of Republic Airlines. The deal doubled Northwest’s size, but the integration led to months of lost baggage and years of worker infighting. Senior pilots at the airline still identify themselves as “red book,” meaning they were covered by the old Northwest contract, or “green book,” Republic’s contract. Why should you care?
Well, back in 1999, after American Airlines acquired tiny Reno Air, an integration dispute triggered an illegal pilot sickout that disrupted travel nationwide for 11 days. As Susan Carey and Paulo Prada wrote in the Journal, this is one issue in the Delta/Northwest tie-up that isn’t yet resolved. But Delta’s 6,000 pilots and Northwest’s 5,000 already have voted for a common labor contract and agreed to abide by an arbitrator’s ruling if they can’t agree by next month.

Cranky Workers: Poor customer service has been a problem with airline mergers before. Generally speaking, the ongoing uncertainty of mergers can sap employee morale. (After all, one rationale behind combining two airlines — cost savings — often translates into job cuts.) The list of potential merger problems can seem endless. For instance, during the US Airways/America West integration, one sticking point was how empty seats on flights were given to employees. America West employees got to ride in empty seats on a first-come, first-served basis, while US Airways, employees got seats based on seniority. While this might seem like inside baseball, all these issues play a role in employee attitudes, and consequently, passengers’ experience with those employees.

Generalized confusion: As Northwest joins Piedmont, AirCal, Republic, and Mohawk in the great airline-brand scrapyard in the sky, it’s crucial that the “new” Delta makes it clear which airline’s terminals, gates and check-in counters will be in use for customers. It sounds simple, but sometimes airlines can take an extremely long time to iron this stuff out. In a November 2006 column, Scott wrote how Delta’s terminal at New York’s Kennedy was still waiting for full merger integration 15 years after Delta bought Pan Am’s European business, making Delta’s Kennedy operations confusing — even for some cab drivers.

The false start: After airlines merge, it often takes awhile before they’re ready to enact major changes in operations and procedures. Again, the US Airways/America West deal may serve as an example. The integration of the two started off smoothly but ran into large operational snags — poor on-time and baggage handling, people stranded at airports — that inconvenienced customers. (It’s important to note, however, that US Airways has made big strides in straightening most of them out.)

That said, there are plenty of reasons to believe that the integration of Delta-Northwest will be less rocky than other airline marriages. For one, Delta’s CEO Richard Anderson — who will lead the combined carrier — has been in charge of both companies, which may give him special insight into how the two cultures will blend.
Readers, we know many of you are airline experts. What other unexpected bumps lie down the road?