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This month, Northwest Airlines' identity is merging with that of Delta Air Lines, starting with abandonment of the old Northwest uniforms. reports that baggage counters, gates, and luggage claim areas are all being redone in Delta's flagship hues of red, white, and blue. But it will take until the end of next year to repaint all of Northwest's planes.

A merger is a highly complex and delicate ballet, and certainly one of the toughest branding decisions of any merger continues to be the selection of an official flight beverage. Consider how pivotal it is to pick the correct soda. In the process of stitching distinct corporate cultures together into one seamless whole, you have the job of integrating the work of thousands of employees, equipment, technology, unions, etc.

Nevertheless, someone in the Delta hierarchy will still be faced with the unenviable assignment of selecting a cross-platform cola.

According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Delta serves Coca-Cola drinks and Northwest serves Pepsi, but only one will be chosen as the sole beverage provider. In 2007 Delta & Northwest together carried 129.5 million passengers. At stake is a lot of carbonation. What will Delta's decision maker base the selection on? Customer preference? Cost? Relationships? Brand equity? Image alignment? Fizziness?

Interestingly, it was only in 1993 that Northwest staked out the high ground in the airline cola wars by becoming the first major carrier to offer fliers a choice of Pepsi or Coke This early exercise in à la carte marketing took choice to the next level. Still, probably we'll never know for certain just how many passengers decided to fly Northwest because of its adoption of CBO, or the Cola Beverage Option.

So will it be Delta's Atlanta-based Coca-Cola or Northwest's Purchase-based Pepsi? Currently, Coca-Cola controls most of the carrier cola market. My guess is that that will not change much anytime soon.

Airline Futurist • Miami •