KLM and Northwest merge operations

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NORTHWEST Airlines and KLM, the Dutch flag carrier, began integrating their international operations yesterday, announcing plans to merge their schedules and operate joint transatlantic flights.

The integration of international services is a first step towards creating the world's first 'global airline'. It came after the carriers received approval from US transportation regulators earlier this month.

While the airlines are not adopting a new joint identity, they plan to add a 'seal of partnership', a symbol combining both their logos, to all their aircraft, their advertising and printed materials.

'No matter where a customer is on the Northwest or KLM systems, our aim is to provide a consistent and superior level of service,' said Pieter Bouw, the KLM president.

KLM bought a 49 per cent stake in Northwest for dollars 400m in 1989, when it was taken private by Al Checchi, the Los Angeles businessman, in a highly leveraged dollars 3.65bn deal that brought the American airline massive financial problems.

In a joint statement, the airlines said yesterday that they would start 'code-sharing' of their flights in computer reservations systems, making it easier for Northwest passengers to fly beyond Amsterdamn in Europe, and for KLM passengers to transfer to US cities beyond its current gateways.

They also announced plans to link their frequent flyer plans and will co-ordinate their passenger terminal services, flight dispatch operations and catering.

Joint flights between Amsterdam and Boston and Minneapolis are to begin on 4 April.

Northwest is the world's fourth- largest airline in terms of passenger-kilometres, while KLM ranks eighth.