The Delta guys – let’s call them Delts, after that jocks only fraternity on college campuses that used to go around beating up little guys and kicking sand in the face of 98-pound weaklings who later became aviation writers – are on the go. Senior executives of the airline are making the rounds of major US airports to tout the rejuvenated, buffed up airline as it comes out of bankruptcy and prepares for a try at prosperity. They came out to Dulles the other day, but Jerry Grinstein, the chief executive who has guided the carrier through its reorganisation since it filed for bankruptcy protection in 14 September 2005 wasn’t there. He’d been on trips to big hubs like New York or Salt Lake City, Cincinnati and so on a few days earlier, but just could not come to Dulles. So instead he sent a life-size cardboard cut out, similar to the full-size, stand-up figures that service families keep in their homes while the paterfamilias is on duty overseas. They dub these Flat Daddy or Thin Daddy, so the CEO promptly became ‘Flat Jerry’.
But perhaps they should have posted a cardboard cut out of Doug Parker, the US Airways CEO and chairman. As Paul Jacobson, the Delta treasurer said, “Maybe we should be sending Doug Parker a big thank-you card. He galvanised our Delta people” with US Airway’s hostile bid to buy Delta and merge the two carriers, a bid that ultimately failed late last year. But that assault united the Delta employees in a grass-roots campaign called KeepDeltaMyDelta. As Delta’s chief personnel officer, Beth Johnson, told the Dulles crowd, “we were united by hostile outside force”. She then gave Flat Jerry a very big hug.
Delta is chuffed that it is rising in the on-time rankings, she said, coming closer to the top of the pack after struggling in the lower ranks. Operating centre chief Neil Stronach said that the airline had improved turn times by taking a few tricks it learned while running its low-cost Song unit, but also said that the new fifth runway at Atlanta’s Hartsfield was finally taking effect. They perhaps could have brought a full-sized stand up of the airport’s just-opened taxiway that allows aircraft to do an end-run as it were instead of having to cross active runways. Stronach said that the only real on-time challenges now “were gate utilisation, even though we’re nowhere near gate saturation yet, and waiting for the FAA to redesign some of the Hartsfield approaches”. As Hartsfield’s now configured, aircraft coming into the largest and busiest hub in the nation sometimes have to fly as far west as Alabama to make their approaches. The airline’s pushing itself hard in a very visible new ad campaign, and is about to launch a community section of its website. All in all, they’re no longer 98-pound weakling in the intensive scare of a bankruptcy judge, but a big muscular player that just may be in the position to push their way into flyers’ hearts and wallets.