I doubt very seriously the Feds would allow the airlines to merge as part of a bailout. Atty General Ashcroft, a free-market conservative, correctly ruled UA-US an anticonsumer nightmare that violated antitrust law. If anything, the Feds might require that the major carriers *not* merge for several years as a condition to bailout.
The one exception to that, I think, might be US Airways. Although they're still cash-flush and far from bankruptcy, the events of Sept. 11 will hasten their demise. Even Steve Wolf can't overcome OSatan Bin Laden.
The Feds just might devise a breakup plan for US Airways that would ensure that five big carriers remained. Deregulation's major failing has been that the airlines consolidated into six high-cost carriers which gouge medium and small-size cities. A bailout would be an opportunity for the Feds to ensure that US's weakness did not turn into a buyout by one carrier.
The Congresspeople and Senators who represent those cities will *not* allow the Cartel-Mafia Six to merge to three anytime soon. These carriers' service and pricing behavior will have to improve a lot, for a long time, before they would be trusted with the market power of merging to three.
Need a new airline paint scheme? Better call Saul! (Bass that is)