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Is this the end for Delta?

Today's Washington Post (registration required) notes that Delta, the nation's third-largest airline, could be grounded by a pilots' strike as early as next week.

"The airline has no contingency plans in place if a strike occurs," writes columnist Keith L. Alexander. And barring a last-minute agreement, a strike would almost certainly be the end of the airline. Let me stress that: Delta could be done as early as next Tuesday. That could leave millions of travelers stranded, and millions more with potentially worthless frequent flyer miles. Obviously, it's a bad situtation. But is there hope?

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The Post thinks so. Alexander notes that in the past four years, pilots at three other major carriers (United, US Airways, and Northwest) have all threatened to strike at one time or another. None have. It may be different with Delta, though. The airline is asking its pilots to absorb an 18-percent paycut in addition to 2004's massive 32.5-percent pay reduction. Add those up and you get more than a 50-percent cut in two years.

Delta's pilots' union has reportedly set aside $10 million to fund a strike. Let's hope it doesn't come to that—there won't be any winners if it does.

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