Delta CEO Ed Bastian talks:
• Delta’s broadening
• The “airport experi-
ence of the future”
• Free inflight Wi-Fi
Delta has navigated a flurry of activity this year in
building global alliances and joint business ventures, including significant investments in several of its international partners, earning Delta
CEO Ed Bastian a spot on BTN’s 2017 25 Most
Influential list (see page 10). He spoke with BTN
transportation editor Michael B. Baker.
WHAT’S THE UPDATE ON YOUR ALLIANCE STRATEGY?
In Europe, we’re well established with Air France-KLM and Virgin Atlantic, and we’re working hard
to try to harmonize the two JVs to a single JV. That
will be one of the things we will accomplish in 2018.
We closed the transaction and now are 10 percent
owners of the Air France-KLM group and are inside the company and their boardroom, which is a
big part of what we’re doing here: trying to build
foundational relationships for customers. We’re not
doing it as airline investors. We’re doing it to have
the greatest impact and influence for our customers as they travel internationally. While commercial
relationships or contracts are a great start, the real
value, the real alignment and the real investment
decisions need to be occurring as owners with similar outcomes.
In Latin America, with Aeromexico, we closed that
in 2017, as well. We feel great about what we’re building for the future. It’s a unique type of JV. It’s the nar-rowbody, and we share the same continent. It’s more
like a U.S. domestic relationship than a classic international relationship. We currently have more than
100 people we share between our two entities, people
working in Mexico City or their people working here
In Brazil, with Gol, we’ve seen a nice turn in the
market, as well as the economy. 2018 will be hopefully a year of strong growth. It’s a market with great
potential, and we have a wonderful partner. Gol is doing very well in Brazil. They are the market leaders in
the domestic market, and I anticipate we’ll have some
development there in the new year to speak to at the
In Asia, we’re making a lot of changes on our
network, bringing our latest technology, the Airbus
A350, to Asia, which is an important step in that
region. We have a renewed partnership with Korean,
where we have gotten [U.S. Department of Transpor-tation] consent, and we’re working with the Korean
authorities to receive the same support ... in 2018.
It will be the largest transpac JV and relationship in
DELTA HAS ANNOUNCED A JOINT BUSINESS AGREEM-
MENT WITH CANADA’S WESTJET. ARE THERE OTHER
HOLES IN THE NETWORK YOU’RE LOOKING TO FILL?
There are always a couple of things to work out, but
we have our main partnerships and territories covered at this point. We’d like to have a better long-term solution for India. We started working much
closer together with Jet [Airways], and our partners
with Air France-KLM have announced a closer relationship, which will help us [on] transatlantic
[routes], as well.
VIRGIN ATLANTIC ALSO HAS MOVED TO YOUR RESERVA-
TIONS SYSTEM. WILL WE SEE MORE MOVEMENT LIKE
THAT FROM YOUR OTHER PARTNERS?
Yes, there will be. We’re continuing to improve the
technology platform here at Delta. Virgin Atlantic—
the implementation went well, but it was the first stage
and there’s a lot more to come, which we’re working
closely with them to develop. Based on the success of
that, we’ll have other partners interested, as well.
WHAT’S YOUR OUTLOOK FOR 2018, AND WHAT WILL
DELTA’S PRIORITIES BE IN THE NEW YEAR?
2017 will be our strongest traffic and passenger count in
our history, which we’re quite proud of. It’s something
we’re seeing across all our regions, not just in the U.S.
On transatlantic routes, we’re very impressed with how
things have rebounded and recovered. The priorities for
2018 might sound a little boring, but it’s doing it the same
but even better. The operational performance will be a
hallmark of ours, and we have continued investments in
that, [including] enhancements to our baggage services.
There’s a lot of work in the airport department in
2018. We have many investments going on across our
airports: LaGuardia, Los Angeles, Seattle, Salt Lake City
and here in Atlanta. Many of our big hubs in our network
are undergoing a significant amount of spend, and we’re
building an airport experience of the future for our customers. We want to utilize not just technology that we
know but what we see on the horizon, biometrics being a
big part of that to enable better screening and more effective and efficient queues and wait times, shortening those
through the airport. We’re investing in better technology
at gates to enhance the boarding process.
We have a lot of work going on in the international
space in 2018. The other thing is our visual applications. One of the most important projects we have for
the company moving forward is the development of
what we call a single view of the customer. We have
a treasure trove of information about our customers.
Unfortunately, it sits across many databases and applications, and we can’t utilize them to the benefit of being able to service our customers in the most effective
way at all times. We have big infrastructure and technology architecture work going on to unify our data
sources and be able to give our agents and flight attendants and the people handling the sales agreements
an account on a personal level so we understand our
travelers, their history, our experience with them, what
their expectations are and how we can more closely
and better personalize their relationship with Delta.
YOU’VE MENTIONED ELSEWHERE THAT YOU EXPECT
INFLIGHT WI-FI WILL BE FREE SOMETIME DOWN THE
ROAD. ARE WE ANYWHERE NEAR THAT?
We need to improve the quality of it before we can
talk about making it free. We’re investing in satellite
technology. Gogo is actively turning on more and more
2Ku satellite technology on our planes, and we’re
working hard on the certification process and the implementation. The majority of our mainline fleet will
be satellite based in the first half of 2018. There are
still quality issues that we’re working aggressively with
Gogo to potentially enable our customers onboard to
have the same bandwidth and speed and service level
in the sky as on the ground, and once we get there,
then we have to discuss the affordability. Where in the
world do people pay for Wi-Fi any longer? That’s got
to go away, as well, so we’ll be working on improving
the price point, as well, as we move forward.
“We have a treasure trove of information about
sits across many
Read more of Bastian’s Q&A at
• Delta’s win on BTN’s
• Operations performance
• Distribution strategy
• Gulf carriers & Open Skies