Well, well, what do you know? TheNew York Times is reporting that both Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) and Northwest Airlines (NASDAQ:NWAC) are close to filing for bankruptcy, and that the deed may even be done today.

Yeah, that's a surprise.

In a textbook example of the law of unintended consequences, both of these legacy carriers are contemplating going belly-up on paper in order to avail themselves of, among other things, debt and pension-plan regulations that allow them to sidestep payments if they're operating under bankruptcy protection.

The likes of United Airlines (OTC BB: UALAQ) and U.S. Airways (OTC BB: UAIRQ) are already operating under Chapter 11, of course, a dynamic that makes declaring bankruptcy tantamount to a competitive advantage in the industry.

Indeed, if Delta and Northwest weren't contemplating these moves, industry analysts would likely be scratching their heads. Current common shareholders should be scratching their heads if they still own the stock, rather than having taken their money and run to the likes of JetBlueAirways (NASDAQ:JBLU), Ryanair (NASDAQ:RYAAY), and Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV). Even amid surging fuel costs, these low-cost airlines have found ways to remain profitable.

The $64,000 question with respect to Northwest and Delta, however, is this: Will going the way of their weaker brethren make either company a more compelling investment opportunity?

In a word, no. In two words, absolutely not.

Bankruptcy protection is a nice safe harbor for both, but it's only a temporary solution. Eventually, both airlines will have to put up viable plans for their fiscal future or shut up. Given the feisty, low-cost competition they face, the lumbering giants of the airline business desperately need an extreme financial makeover.

Will one be forthcoming? Only time will tell. For now, though, the legacy carriers are looking more and more like dodo birds, while their sprightly low-cost rivals just keep humming along.

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Shannon Zimmerman runs point on the Motley Fool Champion Funds newsletter service and doesn't own any of the securities mentioned above. You can check out the Fool's disclosure policy by clicking right here.