Last Friday’s (16NOV2007) edition of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has published a group of articles related to Delta CEO Richard Anderson denying all the reports from a day earlier which suggested that Delta is in talks with Chicago based United Airlines about a merger.
Atlanta is surely interested in the possible merger news as it is the current headquarters for Delta Airlines and according to early reports the new merged airlines would have their HQ in Chicago, rather than in Atlanta. The two cities, which are 700 miles apart, reacted very similarly to the emerging news. “We’d fight like hell” said Paul O’Connor, executive director of World Business Chicago. “It’s personal. It’s a matter of pride.” Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce countered: “The commitment of Atlanta to keep Delta is unwavering,” he said. “It always has been and always will be: ‘Keep Delta My Delta.” He also added that the chamber is supportive of Delta merging with another airline “as long as the headquarters stays in Atlanta.”
At about the same time Delta CEO Mr. Anderson went through some tough minutes last Thursday in the Congress in Washington, too. He arrived for a hearing about the awaited air traffic congestion over the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend, but ended up protecting himself and Delta against the merger “rumours”. During the hearing Representative Lynn Westmoreland (Republican from the state of Georgia) challenged Mr. Anderson to assure him that Atlanta-based Delta was not involved in merger talks with United Airlines. Mr. Westmoreland said he was “dissapointed to read in the paper” about the talks. He said he had also read a statement Delta released Wednesday denying that such talks were taking place: “I want to look at you eyeball to eyeball” and hear you deny it, too. “I was as surprised as you were, ther are no discussions. There have been no discussions” replied Mr. Anderson. The congressman from Newnan recalled that he was a “ramp rat” for Delta, his daughter was a flight attendant for the airline, and his wife worked in marketing with Delta (!). He said Delta is part of the Atlanta family, and “we don’t want the family to move north. I’m asking you to keep the family informed.” If the talks are indeed happening, it puts Mr. Anderson in a very-very hard position, having an alumni Delta family as the Congressman’s own family… This could be very useful in any other ways, but if the talks are true, it is a misfortune for him personally. But it would be a big help for Delta’s more than 26.000 emplyees in the state (of Georgia) which includes 3.365 at the headquarters alone.
Even though I’m staying in Atlanta at the moment for a month and a half, let’s hear the other side, too as Chicago is also a tough contender in keeping an airline HQ within the city-limits. United can trace its roots in Chicago to the 1920s, and the above quoted Paul O’Connor also said “They are us.” The two airports have been in a rivalry for a long time to clinch the busiest airport title, Atlanta hosted the Olympics in 1996, while Chicago is pushing to land the 2016 Olympics and show itself to the world, just like Atlanta did 11 years ago. Not so long ago Chicago officials heard rumblings about United Airlines looking at real estate in Denver (possibly to move their offices), and they replied with USD 6 million of incentives to persuade the airline to stay and to shift executive offices from the suburbs to downtown Chicago. O’Conner said if the merger talks “firm up, we would do what we could do.” United has about 16.000 employees in Illinois, almost all of whom are in the Chicago area.
Despite the two cities and their business communities fighting already (without anybody acknowledging the rumours) some people have a different opinion. A consultant from Chicago interviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said: “At the end of the day, it wouldn’t matter as long as they were on time. They all at this point aren’t very good.” No further comment is needed on that one, I think, but “The Tale of The Two Cities Keeping An Airline Headquarter” seems to have started…
(based on the 16NOV2007 edition of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)