Taking off at Northwest and Continental..

May 19, 2008

It’s no secret that most of the major airlines are a bit of a mess, what with the poor economy, rising fuel prices, lots of layoffs and declining customer service, as I footnoted here. And the stocks of various airlines, as reflected by this index are clearly in the dumps.

Despite this, two major carriers are still finding ways to send their departing executives off in style. Both Continental (CAL) and Northwest (NWA), which is in the process of merging with Delta (DAL), both filed 8Ks late Friday disclosing some details — but not the entire agreement — that two top executives will be receiving upon their respective departures. Both companies announced the respective departures on May 13, but waited until Friday to file some of the details.

At Northwest, which announced on Tuesday that executive vice president Neal Cohen was leaving, the company disclosed in this 8K some of the stock that Cohen will be receiving, including full vesting upon a change of control. But the filing didn’t include a total dollar figure. Perhaps that’s because some people still remember the $2.5 million that Cohen received when he left US Air in 2004. Friday’s filing notes that Cohen “will receive the severance payments and benefits provided for in his existing management compensation agreement.” But Cohen’s agreement when he was hired back in May 2005 seems to be MIA as does any mention of his salary in the company’s proxy statements since then, presumably because Cohen wasn’t among the top five execs. The fact that Northwest is dribbling out the information regarding Cohen’s departure likely means that his send-off will be hefty.

Over at Continental, this 8K provided some additional details on CFO Jeff Misner’s departure. Like Northwest, there were a few more details than in Tuesday’s press release, but the actual contract was also MIA. As the 8K noted, Misner will get $2.9 million in exchange for a non-compete and for surrendering all of his restricted stock units. Misner, by the way, is also a director at Vonage (VG), whose stock has even underperformed the airlines.

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