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Megacarrier elevates travel options

Published April 19, 2008 3:26 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Delta Air Lines executives barnstormed Salt Lake City on Friday to make their case that a merger with Northwest Airlines is a good idea, and they raised the possibility that the combined carrier might fly nonstop from Utah to Amsterdam and Tokyo.

Richard Anderson, Delta's chief executive officer, and Ed Bastian, president of the Atlanta-based carrier, met with Salt Lake-based employees, government officials and LDS Church leaders during a daylong series of appearances that culminated four days of meetings around the country to drum up support for the merger.

"Amsterdam is Northwest's gateway throughout Europe, and we've connected Salt Lake to Paris. We haven't run the numbers, but I think there is a possibility that when we do run the numbers, we are going to see Salt Lake-to-Amsterdam also works," Bastian told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Bastian said a route to Tokyo's Narita International Airport also is possible but presents a bigger challenge. Delta would need a bigger, more expensive jet to reach Japan from Salt Lake, possibly a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which is scheduled to enter service in 2009.

Bastian also raised the possibility of an Amsterdam route at a packed meeting with employees at Salt Lake City International Airport. Delta employees also were talking about a Tokyo route, a possibility raised earlier this week by Glen Hauenstein, the airline's executive vice president of network planning and revenue management.

"I think it's brilliant," flight attendant Cindy Hanks said. "We are going to open up the Far East for Salt Lake. My premium passengers, their biggest complaint is the lack of Asian routes on Delta Air Lines."

The subject of international flying also came up during a morning meeting with Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker; Jason Perry, executive director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development; Maureen Riley, executive director of the airport; and others.

"We were encouraged by the indications of general support for route development. We have had and will continue to have conversations [with Delta] on several different routes, domestic as well as international," said airport spokeswoman Barbara Gann.

Delta has 3,500 employees in Salt Lake City, including 600 pilots. After a two-hour meeting with 150 workers, Anderson said most support the merger, which would create the world's biggest carrier, measured by passenger traffic.

"The employees are excited. Overall, it's a positive reaction because we have crafted this [merger] in a way that gives them the security that we are making the right decisions for the company, long term," Anderson said.

Mary Rogers, who works at Delta's Crown Room Club at the airport, hopes the merger will smooth the turbulence employees have endured for several years. Delta lost huge sums of money before entering bankruptcy in 2005. A year later, the airline fought off a hostile takeover bid from US Airways while also imposing wage cuts on thousands of employees. In recent months, the cost of jet fuel has escalated to unprecedented levels, forcing five small carriers to declare bankruptcy. Four have ceased flying.

"Not all airlines will survive the fuel prices and the economy right now, but Delta will with this merger. I feel confident in that," said Rogers, a 33-year employee.

Said Ed Thiel, a Delta captain: "I'm impressed by Richard Anderson and his aggressiveness and his straightforward approach to everything. I've been here 23 years. We've never had a CEO that impresses me this much."

Speaking to reporters in the mayor's office, Anderson said Delta's hub would continue to be an important part of the combined airline after the merger is complete, possibly by the end of this year. But with crude oil prices pushing toward $117 a barrel Friday, he didn't rule out the possibility that Delta would be forced to make further capacity cuts in Salt Lake City and elsewhere.

"We will, independent of this transaction, just as we have over the past six months, make adjustments in capacity, based upon these fuel prices and demand," Anderson said. "But with that said, this transaction is, overall, very positive for Delta, very positive for its employees and very positive for the communities that we serve."

What's next:

* The Department of Justice's antitrust division is expected to approve the proposed merger of Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines by the end of the year. Stockholders of the two companies also must vote on the merger.