Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian says he expects it will take “a
number of years” before air travel volume is comparable to what it was in 2019.
The airline is currently operating about 50% of its domestic schedule, and only
selling about 60% of the seats in that schedule due its decision to block
middle seats through January 6.
But recovery will happen faster, he says, if there is a
collaborative effort across all of the industry’s stakeholders to communicate a
unified message about safety and trust.
His remarks came during an interview with SAP Concur president
Jim Lucier Thursday during the travel and expense management company’s online
Travel Industry Summit.
“People travel for a purpose. They don’t travel just to
travel. They need to understand [for] the city they are traveling to, what’s the
stage of the virus? Are the hotels in a position to be able to keep them safe? Are
the restaurants open? Are the casinos or the theme parks or the businesses open?”
“So while we can get people traveling again I think the
question is just broader than our sector of air travel. It’s the travel ecosystem.
Getting the hotels and getting all aspects of the hospitality business to join
arms and continue to drive the same type of safety protocols, the safety
message and the confidence in protecting people through will help us all get
out and get more comfortable in being on the road.”
Bastian says the airline has used this period of reduced
volume to “accelerate its push toward the future,” by retiring older and fuel-efficient
planes, ending operations in unprofitable markets and streamlining operations
including a 20% reduction in staff.
He says some COVID-induced changes will be permanent -
such as “a portion of business travel that won’t return” because it was
inefficient and can effectively be replaced by video conferencing – and the enhanced
focus on sanitation and cleanliness.
Bastian says the company’s Delta CareStandard hygiene
protocol is not only providing reassurance to passengers – the airline’s net promoter scores are up 20 points
this summer compared to summer 2019 – he is confident the initiative is also
succeeding in minimizing the impact of COVID-19.
“If the experience of flying was not safe, you would expect
our people to be getting sick on board the planes because they live in the
airport environment, the live onboard the aircraft,” Bastian says.
“And we track the health of our people, in fact we’re testing
all of our people so we know exactly where they stand relative to the virus.
And our people are meaningfully getting less infected, less sick than the
general population is in any of the regions in which we operate.”
When asked for his thoughts on the social justice issues
that surfaced so prominently this summer, Bastian says, “I think it’s caused us
all to stop and take stock of what’s going on around us. It’s a time where we need
to think about reset in a lot of ways. Not just resetting our companies but resetting
justice and equality and giving people opportunity for advancement.”
Bastian says it is also a time for accountability, and he is
determined to be transparent about what is happening at Delta on the specific
measure of race.
“When you talk about Black diversity, we don’t have a good score.
And I think a lot of companies are in that same way,” he says.
“A little over 20% of our employees here at Delta are Black, yet
only 7% of officers – the top 100 people in the company - are black. We can do better,
and we are going to do better. We are going to hold ourselves accountable with transparency
to show people what we are doing.”
Prior to Bastian’s interview, Lucier spoke to Marriott
International CEO Arne Sorenson.
Sorenson also spoke of the need to “do even more” to address
“It’s about communicating. It’s about resetting goals. It’s
about making sure that those goals are tied to compensation. It’s about making
sure that we’ve got a dialogue with folks,” he says.
“And to make sure that we are moving as quickly as we can, both
with what we can control internally at Marriott - opportunities for our people
and the like, procurement and the like – but also what we can do with other businesses
and other industries, to make sure we are collectively moving this needle as
much as possible.”
As for Marriott's recovery, Sorenson says occupancy is
now in the mid-60% in China, which is good but also skewed because some of that
business is from Chinese people who would normally be traveling abroad and now
are instead traveling within their own country. But Sorenson says he sees “encouraging
signs” around the world, with at least modest improvement every week in most