Delta Air Lines, Private Equity Firm Assess Possible Bid for American Airlines

UPDATE: More recent media reports now add US Airways to the list of those known to be assessing a possible bid for American Airlines.

EARLIER: Today’s news reports that Delta Air Lines and private equity firm TPG Capital are both assessing possible bids for American Airlines (or rather, its parent company AMR Corp.) left me with this thought: the dance has begun. A merger or even a take-over could be in the cards.

My second thought was, here we go again – and everyone holding a ticket or contemplating a purchase on American is going to worry that some corporate raider is going to pick over the assets and leave them holding the proverbial checked-bag on their already-paid-for ticket and everyone with tons of miles will be on edge about whether they’ll be worth anything later this year. I do not believe you have to worry (see more about this below).

What Airline Bankruptcies Mean for Consumers

Delta Jumps Ahead of US Airways

Talk has swirled around American ever since it declared bankruptcy on Nov. 29 – the last of the legacy carriers to take this step in the wake of 9/11.

Hear Anne McDermott and myself talk about American Airlines and what all this means for the company.

I have always thought a merger attempt was a distinct possibility (as did slightly over half of the respondents to a recent investors’ poll), but the partner many seemed to think would make first stab at American was US Airways.

US Airways was seen as a likelier merger “suspect” because Delta and United had already partnered up this past decade (with Northwest and Continental, respectively) with US Airways’ CEO openly expressing his interest the past few years in further consolidation.

Now with Delta reportedly taking a look-see at American, the question is – will it be with friendly or hostile eyes?

Pro’s and Con’s of Partnership with American

Certainly a merger or acquisition of American has pluses and minuses: on the positive side, there are huge assets like its nearly 70 million member miles club program (AAdvantage), and even more importantly, all that gate space in American hub cities like Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and New York. On the minus side, there is a fair amount of baggage including a lots of relatively expensive and in some cases, potentially redundant employees – presumably baggage that would have to be shed in the coming months of bankruptcy proceedings for anyone to be serious.

Tickets Should be Safe

For the first time, it seems to me that it’s just possible that venerable American Airlines – one of the largest airlines in the world and one of these best known brands in the globe – might cease to exist.

Let me also say, I doubt American will disappear. Still, you have to wonder now what’s going through the minds of all those executives in the American offices over in Ft. Worth.

For those holding tickets or thinking of buying them – I am holding several and will probably buy more. I am not worried that they won’t be honored. That said, if you buy your tickets in the two-month window before your departure date, you could always fall back on your credit card company if something untoward happens. On the ‘mile hound’ front, I always use or gift my miles and recommend other people do that as well.

It’s still way too early to make predictions, though. After all, the dance has just begun.

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Published: January 12, 2012