Delta reflects on 10th anniversary of merger with Northwest

From Northwest red to Delta blue. The aircraft tail colors have changed in ten years and so has the strength of the merged airline.

“I think it’s been a wonderful experience going from Northwest to Delta,” said Bill, a 33-year employee with both companies. “It’s been a wonderful experience.”

The airline has survived. Delta executives told a packed hangar of 600 workers who started their careers with Northwest that their patience and work has paid off.

But it wasn’t easy. Northwest was an airline plagued with labor issues. Both Northwest and Delta were emerging from bankruptcy. Gate worker Daniel Feist admits workers faced a lot of uncertainty with the merger.

“We just kept working hard at it and tried to make ends meet at the time and Delta came through,” said Feist. “As the years went by it went better and better.”

“I wanted to work with them for a while,” said Marcia Elder, who has spent 12 years with Delta. “So, when I got to work with them I was pretty excited and then they started talking about the merger and everyone was like, Okay what’s going on here? But I have to say it has been great.”  

Most of the airline industry ten years ago was in survival mode. Merging with Delta was the only way Northwest could keep flying.

“If there wasn’t a merger, we wouldn’t be standing here today,” said Bill Lentsch, the Delta MSP executive vice president of operations. “With the merger ten years ago, I was thinking we’ve got a shot.”

In 2008, Northwest was flying to 142 destinations. Today, the combined airline flies to 122 out of MSP. The airline argues the difference is both airlines flew to many of the same destinations ten years ago. 

In 2008, Northwest employed 11,500 at MSP. Today, with Delta’s subsidiaries, employment hovers around 12,000.

“The airline industry has challenges, it will always have challenges,” said Lentsch. “I think we are in the best position to confront those challenges whether it’s an economic cycle or external to our industry like weather. We are the in the best position to deal with that.”  

Delta is now among the most profitable airlines in the world. Executives says today that employees will be getting another profit sharing check in January. It’s the fifth year in a row it’s been able to cut those checks to workers.