The New Airline Map
If US Airways succeeds in its bid to purchase Delta Air Lines, it could touch off a wave of consolidation. There are eight major U.S. airlines now, but analysts think mergers and other deals could narrow that to as few as five bigger players. Many pairings would be shot down by regulators, since they'd create monopoly carriers in key markets. Here are some of the possible hookups:
United Airlines has said publicly it is pursuing merger or acquisition possibilities. Deals with American, Continental, or Northwest are probably off the table, since they would trigger antitrust concerns. United's best move may be to make a counteroffer for Delta. Another possible target is US Airways if its own bid for Delta falls through.
American Airlines could make a bid for Northwest, which is in bankruptcy, taking advantage of many of the same factors that US Airways hopes to exploit in its Delta offer. It could also seek a deal with US Airways if the Delta bid falls through.
Continental Airlines has said it wants to remain a stand-alone airline, but it might be forced to seek a merger if competitors suddenly get bigger. Theoretically, it could merge with any big airline except American.
US Airways could make a bid for Northwest if its Delta offer gets nixed.
Delta Air Lines, which is in bankruptcy, has very limited options. But if it can rebuff the US Airways offer, Delta could possibly raise enough private cash to merge with any other carrier besides American.
Southwest, the healthiest U.S. airline, will remain independent. The carrier has no interest in merging its highly efficient fleet or route structure with that of any competitor.