Delta negotiates with two airlines at once

Come on, Delta, one leak. That’s all we need: one little leak from your board of directors meeting last week at which, it was reported, you were to decide whether you were going to try to gobble up Northwest Airlines or United Airlines.

This morning, we got it, apparently. The answer is … both.

According to the Wall St. Journal (subscription possibly required. If so, alternate Reuters story here) , the Delta board has voted to begin merger talks with both airlines.

Of the two other airlines, Northwest, based in Eagan, Minn., is considered the more likely of the two partners, according to people involved in the matter. Mr. Anderson is the former chief executive of Northwest and remains close to Douglas M. Steenland, his successor there. Tammy Lee, a spokeswoman for Northwest, declined to comment.

Great. So now we’ve got two major negotiations going on that play one party against the other. The Twins are still shopping Johan Santana to either the Red Sox or Yankees. In both, the smart money seems to be on Minnesota losing.

If Northwest leaves, the Minnesota economy may take a hit, according to a story today from Minnesota Public Radio’s Annie Baxter. But it’s our psyche that may be damaged if we lose another corporate headquarters. The possibility of that seems real, despite a deal between the Metropolitan Airports Commission and Northwest to maintain a headquarters here. That, according to the story, is an unenforceable deal.

Last year, the MAC sharpened the language of its agreement with Northwest, stipulating that Northwest’s senior management be located here in order to satisfy the company’s promise to be headquartered in Minnesota.

But MAC and state officials say the agreement cannot force Northwest to keep a headquarters here. So, Governor Pawlenty set up a team just last week to look at issues like the cost of Northwest leaving.

Wells Fargo moved its headquarters to San Francisco a few years ago when Norwest Bank merged (maybe there’s hope for a name change. There’s still a State officials here note, however, that Wells Fargo has more employees here than in San Francisco. But so what? Norwest was ours, now it’s theirs.

When The St. Paul Companies merged with Travelers Insurance in 2004, the headquarters stayed here as the St. Paul Travelers Company. Then, the company dropped St. Paul from the name and we got to understand how Mr. Roebuck felt.

As much as we fret about Northwest, other cities have even more to lose. It’s expected that Minneapolis will remain a hub for “Norlta” or “Delwest.” But they’ve resigned themselves to doom in Memphis. And out in Salt Lake City, they’re rooting for Northwest to be Delta’s choice. “If it’s United, your hub is toast,” one analyst is telling a Salt Lake City newspaper.

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