News of the huge airline merger that's paired Delta Airlines with Minnesota's Northwest Airlines looks to be a double-sided coin for our state's airline customers in an increasingly shaky industry.
Less competition is never better for the average flier and even though there's been little duplication of the two airlines' routes, most analysts predict fares will continue to increase. Rapidly escalating jet fuel costs will also continue to pressure air fares upward.
As the airlines seek Justice Department approval of their planned merger Minnesota officials should insistently remind them that when Northwest was in dire financial trouble Minnesota stepped up and helped out the Fortune 500 company. The Legislature reluctantly approved a total of $445 million in loans and lease benefits in 1992 when Northwestern filed for bankruptcy protection and in 2007 when it reorganized under Chapter 11. It wasn't an easy vote for lawmakers but they approved it in order to keep jobs in the state and to retain the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport's status as a major hub.
While there's little hope of retaining the merged airline's corporate headquarters, the Chisholm-based reservation center and the number of Minnesota's front-line employees are predicted to remain the same.
Minnesota should hold the airline executives' feet to the fire and insist that if Minnesota is going to lose a major corporate headquarters it should gain an enforceable agreement relating to jobs and service to Minnesota's smaller communities.
Loyalty runs both ways and it's time for Northwest Airlines to live up to its commitments after the state bolstered the airline's finances when they were on the brink of bankruptcy.
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