The two companies had little route and fleet overlap, and vastly different cultures.

“Northwest was an analytical powerhouse…but labor relations and passenger service were lacking,” said Jamie Baker, a senior airline analyst at J.P. Morgan Chase. “Pre-merger Delta, on the other hand, was arithmetically challenged and did little in the way of financial analysis, but they fostered a very strong employee culture and were well-regarded by customers.

“It’s the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of mergers – chocolate and peanut butter, successfully integrated into an investment grade balance sheet,” he said. Delta received its third-investment-grade rating last September, from Standard and Poors.

After the Delta-Northwest tie-up, it touched off a frenetic game of musical chairs among airlines.

In 2010, United and Continental merged, followed by Southwest and AirTran in 2011. Finally, American Airlines and US Airways merged in 2013.

As Anderson and Steenland predicted, it faced the most challenges by going last. It faced the toughest government opposition of the four, although the Justice Department ultimately gave the combination the green light, giving way to what is now the world’s biggest airline.

“The combination of Delta and Northwest was a notable event, especially inside American’s headquarters building,” wrote Gary Kennedy, American Airlines’ former general counsel in his new book “Twelve Years of Turbulence.” The new company had eclipsed American’s footprint.



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