From the ramp to the gate to the cockpit to HQ, airlines are built and run by people. So when labor strife is afoot, as it is for Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) and Northwest Airlines (NYSE:DWA) over a pending merger, it's time to ask: Can these carriers pull up in time?

Let's check the consensus view of our 118,000-strong Motley Fool CAPS community:

Metric

Delta

Northwest

CAPS stars (5 max)

*

*

Total ratings

709

484

Bullish ratings

358

180

Percent bulls

50.5%

37.2%

Bearish ratings

351

304

Percent bears

49.5%

62.8%

Bullish pitches

70

29

Bearish pitches

55

44

Data current as of Sept. 29, 2008.

Ouch.

For its part, the International Association of Machinists issued a statement after Northwest shareholders approved the deal last week. Here's Union General Vice President of Transportation Robert Roach, Jr.:

The same lack of regulation that unhinged our financial markets has created cyclical havoc in the airline industry for the past 30 years, leading to countless airline bankruptcies. The government must stop treating symptoms and start curing the illness plaguing the airline industry. Mergers will not help troubled airlines; sane federal regulation of the industry will.

So let me get this straight. Airlines made stupid bets on bad debt, and they'll now plunge into bankruptcy wholesale without a federal bailout? It's eerily reminiscent of my semi-serious call to nationalize the airlines from April.

Roach is partly right; mergers alone won't cure what ails the airline industry. It needs a total overhaul. But is additional federal regulation the answer? I doubt it. Too many airlines are flying today.

Instead, I agree with the leaders of Delta and Northwest, who in the spring were calling for a 15%-20% fare increase to offset oppressive fuel costs. But carriers also need to get creative. They need to learn from Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) retail innovations and craft an in-flight experience that's unique and, for them, profitable. (I've got several ideas about that.)

Unions have a right to complain. Workers are being paid less to do more. But opposing a merger because, well, it's a merger, and because jobs will be lost, makes no sense. Neither does a federal handoff.

Want to improve the working environments for your members, Mr. Roach? Great. Let's see you debate the merits of the current approaches. Is it better to nickel-and-dime customers via bag fees and $1 coffee, as U.S. Airways (NYSE:LCC) plans? Or are new services in order, as UAL's (NASDAQ:UAUA) affinity innovations suggest?

Or maybe there's another answer. Just be sure that it's better than "mergers stink and it's time for the Feds to step in." They're a little busy right now, sir.

Get your clicks with related Foolishness:

Apple is a Stock Advisor selection.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article at the time of publication. He hunts for the best of tech as a contributor to Motley Fool Rule Breakers. Here's how to try this market-beating service free for 30 days. See all of Tim's Foolish writings. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy labored over whether to have beer or wine during last night's dinner date with the Fool's trading guidelines.