You won't find many investors in our 120,000-strong Motley Fool CAPS community who like airlines -- especially Delta (NYSE:DAL):


Delta Air Lines

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Data current as of Dec. 5, 2008.

"Slowdown in travel will not offset the drop in oil prices," wrote CAPS investor darksabre last month in a bearish pan of Delta. "Airlines will cut fares and will cut extra costs in order to compete for business ... Some airlines will have to go under -- airline industry needs more consolidation."

There's truth to that. JetBlue (NASDAQ:JBLU), Southwest (NYSE:LUV), and Virgin America have held fare sales recently, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. So have UAL's (NASDAQ:UAUA) United, AMR's (NYSE:AMR) American, Continental (NYSE:CAL), and US Airways (NYSE:LCC), in markets where they compete with Southwest, reports the St. Louis-Dispatch.

Delta has also cut fares. But, looking at the November traffic numbers, I'm wondering whether dirty, rotten, beautiful Southwest is doing what it must, while Delta is playing a profitable brand of hardball.

Delta and AirTran were the only two airlines to record load factor gains last month, meaning their planes were fuller this year than last November. Southwest, by contrast, suffered the largest year-over-year percentage decline: 6.1 percentage points.

Has Delta merely cut fares to the bone, attracting customers who want nothing more than cheap flights? Or is this the rare carrier that's climbing toward the black? I'm not holding my breath. This, after all, is the airline that just merged with still-recovering Northwest.

Yet yesterday, I had zero interest in Delta's Q4 earnings report, due out Jan. 21. Today? Color me more than a little intrigued.

Taxi towards related Foolishness:

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.