Everyone has a soapbox someday. In London’s Hyde Park, they even set aside a corner (Speakers’ Corner, appropriately) for advocates of almost any cause, from the antivivisectionists to the antidisestablishmentarians. Here in Washington, people with causes are allowed to speak for however long they wish if they’re Members of Congress, and others sometimes are also given a soapbox from which to pour out their beliefs. Left Field was fortunate the other day to be given a soapbox by the International Aviation Club of Washington. The venue was a so-called media forum where journalists were expected to hold forth on the issues of the day, but as usual, the experts on the podium ended up learning from the real experts in the audience. The topic de jour was mergers and consolidation, and even the experts didn’t know what the next day’s headlines would be. But as the group went through the various rumoured combinations (should Southwest buy United, etc), a thought suggested itself, and we’re going to repeat it here: is this an opportune time for something more ambitious than a domestic merger that may or may not take capacity out of the system, that may or may not produce strong revenue bump-ups, and that may or may not please customers?
Instead, this train of thought went, perhaps people in international aviation could get down to the hard work of bargaining in the next stage of EU-US liberalisation (“open skies”) and address the serious challenges of winning US approval for a liberalised investment regime. That could clear the way for a true twenty-first century merger or combination, one that reaches across borders. And this kind of combination could ultimately embrace the two carriers that were most often mentioned as US merger candidates, Delta and Northwest. Both are members of SkyTeam and each has a domestic code-sharing relationship with the other; Northwest is deeply enmeshed in a joint venture with KLM and Delta is moving closer to a similarly integrated joint venture with Air France, KLM’s parent. Imagine the possibilities. Alas, given the realities of Washington, perhaps they will just remain imaginary.