Delta Wants More Than to Be the Best Airline
In its recent move to buy an oil refinery, Delta bolstered the perception that following a 2009 merger, smaller Northwest took over Delta, replacing a genteel Southern corporate culture with a more combative, more assertive one, more willing to embrace causes and break precedents.
The refinery acquisition is either brilliant or inane -- that judgment will be made in the future -- but it is most certainly bold. Some airline analysts applaud the purchase from Phillips 66, a refining company being spun off from ConocoPhillips (COP) , while the consensus among oil analysts is more along the lines that the oil people knew what they were doing when they decided to abandon the facility.
On the US Airways (LCC) earnings call in April, an analyst asked CEO Doug Parker what he thought about the pending deal and Parker offered this enigmatic commentary: "We (as an industry) have made a lot of progress if airlines are looking at investing their capital in things like that."
Among the big three in the U.S. airline industry, Delta is clearly the leader. It has digested its merger and is producing improved metrics as a result. By contrast, United's (UAL) second quarter reflected merger difficulties, primarily hundreds of millions of dollars in costs associated with combining reservations systems, and United still faces labor integration issues. Meanwhile, AMR (AAMRQ.PK) , is operating under bankruptcy court protection.
New Delta's audacious approach emerged as the largely non-union carrier resisted unionization efforts associated with bringing in organized workers from Northwest. At times, that effort veered beyond enlightened self-interest into ideological warfare.