United Airlines isn’t Delta. That has become painfully clear in recent months as customer complaints rose in March and labor negotiations with pilots may be nearing an impasse. Any merger of large and complex companies like airlines, of course, have their problems, but United’s management thought it would avert many of them.
Delta’s acquisition of Northwest Airlines was supposed to set a new standard for airline mergers, one in which unions cooperated, savings were realized quickly, and everyone from passengers to employees benefited. The Delta deal, though, was an anomaly in the long, troubled history of airline mergers.
When United’s deal to acquire Houston-based Continental was announced in 2010, chief executive Jeff Smisek expressed confidence that labor concerns would be settled quickly and that the unions from both carriers would be integrated, in part because the pilots from both airlines were represented by the Air Line Pilots Association. That hasn’t happened.