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Delta Dodges US Airways

Three weeks ago, I suggested that creditors might force Delta Air Lines to merge with US Airways (NYSE: LCC  ) or equally bankrupt Northwest Airlines. Instead, they've decided to bet on the carrier's plan to go it alone and exit bankruptcy in the spring. Why? According to The Wall Street Journal, bondholders saw greater risk in extending bankruptcy and exposing a merger to Federal review.

I think that's nuts. How, exactly, would an antitrust review add risk? Were a deal to be denied by the Feds, the situation would be the same as it is today: Delta flying solo.

I also fail to see the problem with extending bankruptcy. United parent UAL (Nasdaq: UAUA  ) was in hock for more than two years, refusing to forgo court protection till every nickel of available cost savings was realized. Why shouldn't Delta do the same?

No doubt some will argue that a deal with US Airways was bad from the start. For the record, I agree. Even though overlapping routes and massive layoffs would have provided billions in cost savings, there's still a labor schism between the former employees of USAir and America West. Adding Delta's workers to the mix could have proven too toxic to produce the profits US Airways CEO Doug Parker imagined.

But that's US Airways. What's wrong with a deal with Northwest? How about nothing? Remember, for all that's great about Delta -- and there's plenty -- it's still the No. 3 carrier domestically. Furthermore, the airline has nowhere near the global reach of United or AMR's (NYSE: AMR  ) American. A deal with Northwest might have remedied that.

Alas, Delta's now left where it was before US Airways came calling: as a high-rent legacy carrier with empty pockets and a dwindling array of profitable domestic routes. Do you really believe that's a business worth your investment? Not me.

Prepare for take-off with related Foolishness:

Fool contributor Tim Beyers has 31 picks in his Motley Fool CAPS portfolio, including UAL, which he believes will outperform the S&P 500. He doesn't, however, have real money in the airline or in the stocks of any of the other firms mentioned in this article. Get an inside peek at all the stocks Tim does own by checking his Fool profile. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is always on time for departure.

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