ADVERTORIAL: Delta in Africa

1619

A decade ago, Delta Air Lines led the way in linking the United States to Africa when it launched flights to Dakar, Accra and Johannesburg as part of its greatest ever period of international expansion. A year later, the airline launched its inaugural flight to Lagos, cementing its position as the leading U.S. airline in the African market.

Fast forward 10 years and almost five million passengers and the airline’s network has developed to offer African customers an extensive network of destinations throughout North America and beyond. One of the reasons for this longevity says Jimmy Eichelgruen, the airline’s Director – Sales for Africa, Middle East and Indian Sub-Continent, is Delta’s continued investment in its customers.

“Delta is offering our African customers what they want, namely non-stop flights between four African countries and the United States and easy connections to major cities across North and Central America and the Caribbean,” he says. “We’re about performance, with an unbeatable combination of flight options, exceptional service and product innovations.”

One of the world’s largest airlines, Delta posted its 12th consecutive record quarterly profit in April this year. The airline was named in the top 50 of Fortune’s Most-Admired Companies for the second consecutive year and was named The Most Admired Airline for the fourth time in five years, demonstrating that its long-term strategy of investing in the customer experience is paying off.

With increasingly tough competition in the marketplace airlines are going head-to-head to win business, by searching for innovative new ways to make the travel experience more enjoyable. Delta is taking its services to new heights by offering more travel options, on-board wi-fiand better airport facilities that promise to make flying more convenient, productive and enjoyable for customers flying on its flights from Africa.

“Our nonstop flights offer significant time savings when compared to connecting to the U.S. via hubs in Europe or the Middle East,” says Eichelgruen. “Customers enjoy the benefits of same-airline connections to more than 200 onward destinations via our hubs in Atlanta and New York-JFK.”

Improvements to business class

Time is a precious resource and Delta’s services for business travellers are designed to help them make the most of it. The airline introduced Sky Priority in 2010 to deliver streamlined services at check-in, security and baggage claim for business class and Elite Plus customers. SkyPriority services are now available at more than 1,000 airports thanks to the SkyTeam Alliance, of which Delta is a founding member, meaning that customers can look for the red SkyPriority signs and know what to expect wherever they are in the world.

Delta has invested billions in the experience it offers customers both on board and on the ground. The airline offers full flat-bed seats in Delta One, business class, on each route from Africa. The layout creates ‘cubes; of personal space for more privacy and means passengers don’t disturb other customers when moving around the cabin. All seats are forward-facing and turn into flat-beds at the touch of a button and, combined with full-size pillows and luxury duvets created exclusively for Delta by Westin Hotels and Resorts, help ensure a great night’s sleep.

It’s not just business customers benefiting from Delta’s product improvements. The opportunity to upgrade to Delta Comfort+ class is available on all flights from Africa too. This offers priority boarding and seats with up to 10cm more legroom, and 50% more recline than in the standard Main Cabin. Delta Comfort+ is a popular service that is available on all domestic and international aircraft and, with an upgrade costing from as little as $80 one way, it’s proving to be a popular choice for corporate travellers, says Eichelgruen.

“We believe in offering customers more choice and Comfort+ delivers multiple premium service benefits and a product tailored to meet customers’ travel preferences at a cost-effective price, something that’s particularly important to corporate customers in Africa,” he explains. “Customers on our Africa routes largely upgrade to Comfort + from the main cabin and there is a particularly high demand for Comfort + on our Johannesburg-Atlanta route.”

There’s no economising on the service offered to customers flying in economy. Customers traveling in Delta’s main cabin enjoy seat reservations, an extensive array of entertainment, an amenity case that includes a sleep mask and ear plugs and complimentary drinks and snacks.

Wi-fly with Delta

Delta operates the world’s largest wi-fi-equipped fleet, with more than 3,500 connected flights daily, including its entire fleet of 660 domestic mainline aircraft. More than 1,000 Delta aircraft, including nearly all Delta Connection two-class regional jets and 99% of its long-haul international fleet, are equipped with in-flight wi-fi service, offering access to more than 370,000 customers per day.

Many business customers rely on a trans-Atlantic flight to catch up on work and customers can be productive and keep in touch now that wi-fi is available on Delta’s flights from Accra, Lagos and Dakar. Wi-fi will be available from Johannesburg by September 2016.

“Wi-fi access allows business travellers can remain in contact with the office, even at 30,000 feet, meaning they won’t miss an important deadline or can simply keep on top of emails.”

On-board entertainment

The investment in customers’ travel experience includes more options to enjoy the latest movies from the comfort of their seat. The airline’s on-demand entertainment is available for every passenger throughout the aircraft and features up to 250 movies, plus hundreds of TV shows, 2,300 songs and a selection of games. Delta is the only U.S. carrier to offer personal, on-demand entertainment at every seat on all long-haul international flights.

Customers flying on any domestic Delta or Delta Connection two-cabin, wi-fi-equipped aircraft can enjoy Delta Studio, which enables them to stream free movies and TV options direct to their mobile devices. Launched in 2014, this in-flight streaming service is available through Delta Connect or the Fly Delta App players.

Global airline, local service

Across its entire network Delta is making enhancements to customers’ on-board dining experience, by offering a new selection of chef-created menus that use flavoursome ingredients, picked at their seasonal best. Delta works with its in-flight dining partners to create menu options that feature Delta’s signature global spin on local cuisine. All dishes are paired with a palate-pleasing wine selection chosen for 2016 by Delta’s Master Sommelier, Andrea Robinson.

The airline has tailored the meals it serves on its Africa routes to suit local preferences, for example replacing pasta-based dishes with rice and offering a wider selection of fruit juices on board.

“We’re a global airline, but we think locally when it comes to making sure that we are meeting our customers’ tastes and expectations of service on board our flights,” says Eichelgruen.

The chauffeured connection

One of the attractions of flying with Delta is the huge range of onward destinations on offer throughout the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean. Delta’s flights from Africa are scheduled to connect with more than 200 destinations via its Atlanta and New York-JFK hubs combined, to cities including: Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Dallas and Chicago.

The airline offers the only daytime departure from Accra (Ghana), allowing customers to depart and arrive on the same day. Meanwhile, customers flying from Johannesburg to Los Angeles can be downtown in time for a lunch meeting the next day.

On occasion, connection times might be tight but Delta’s exclusive agreement with Porsche has helped more than 35,000 customers catch their flights in the last year alone. The airline offers this service free to premium SkyMiles customers, driving them between gates to meet their connecting flights. The Porsche transfer service is available at Delta’s seven biggest U.S. hub airports, including New York-JFK, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. The Delta team looks out for SkyMiles Diamond Medallion customers with tight schedules and meets them as they exit the plane to offer a ride across the tarmac in a Porsche Cayenne or Panamera. Porsche transfers are also available to pre-book for a fee through Delta’s VIP Select service.

Airport facilities

When passengers arrive or depart from Delta’s key U.S. hubs, they do so through much improved facilities. Delta’s international terminal in Atlanta offers highly efficient check-in, security and baggage services with a ‘glass wall’ offering views of take-offs and landings throughout the terminal. In New York, Delta unveiled phase two of its expansion at JFK Terminal 4 early in 2015, adding 11 new gates and allowing the airline to relocate Delta Connection flights at JFK from Terminal 2 to Terminal 4 to streamline transits for onward travellers. Both Delta’s Atlanta and New York-JFK hubs feature stunning Sky Club lounges with outdoor Sky Decks, and extensive charging and iPad stations.

Delta opened a dedicated departure lounge for Delta One and Elite passengers at Accra’s Kotoka International Airport in 2014. With capacity for more than 100 customers, it offers free wi-fi, complimentary snacks and a wide range of beverages, plus shower facilities. The airline and its joint venture partner KLM also invested in two dedicated departure gates at the airport, providing air-conditioning and increased seating for customers.

Reliability

Getting customers where they need to be safely and on time is Delta’s top priority.

“In April 99.9% of our flights departed on time and more than 90% arrived on time. We are leading the industry for operational reliability – getting people where they need to be when they need to be there,” said Eichelgruen.

Delta’s Johannesburg-Atlanta flight is one of the world’s longest and, as such, is operated using a Boeing 777-200LR, an aircraft with long-distance range. Meanwhile, the airline operates Boeing 767-300ER aircraft on its Ghana and Lagos routes and Boeing 757-200 aircraft from Dakar. While the aircraft type is fixed on each route, these planes might typically fly to other cities around Delta’s network during the course of a week. Planes are rotated, offering a consistent experience on board for passengers wherever they fly.

“The Boeing 767-300ER is a popular aircraft type with the majority of Delta customers worldwide because of its window/aisle configuration,” says Eichelgruen. “As well as offering fully flat-bed seats, more than 85% of seats on the aircraft are either a window or an aisle seat – something that’s appreciated by long-haul passengers, particularly those in the main cabin.”

Baggage handling is another area where Delta is investing to improve reliability. The airline is deploying Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) baggage tracking technology, a first for U.S. carriers, providing customers with improved real-time tracking of luggage throughout the travel experience.

This move marks a historic shift for Delta and the 120 million bags it handles annually. RFID will replace barcode hand scanning – the industry standard since the early 90s. With this new technology, scanners use radio waves to capture highly accurate and consistent data stored on an RFID chip embedded in the luggage tag, driving superior tracking and increased transparency.

“This new technology means we can track a customer’s bag at every point of their journey and customers can keep an eye on it too through the Fly Delta App with a simple scan of their luggage receipt.”

Already the leading U.S.-based global airline for baggage performance, Delta has invested $50 million to bring the technology to 344 worldwide airports.

Aligned global services

With the option to fly to 327 destinations in 57 countries on six continents, Delta already offers an extensive network. The airline is also a founding member of the SkyTeam alliance and together with the 19 other SkyTeam partners, offers more than 1,000 global destinations, meaning passengers can fly virtually anywhere in the world at a time that suits them. Thanks to alliance-wide frequent flyer perks and SkyPriority services, Delta customers can be assured that they’ll receive the same benefits wherever they fly. Delta SkyMiles customers can also earn and redeem miles on flights operated by any SkyTeam member airline.

Community-minded

Delta is committed to giving back to the communities it serves.

In Ghana, the airline partnered with the Ghana Red Cross Society over a two-year period to support the organisation’s ‘Hang Up and Keep Up’ malaria prevention campaign by funding the distribution of mosquito nets to pregnant women and under-fives, as well as training for volunteers in the field. Through its partnership with Habitat for Humanity, 40 Delta employees completed a Habitat build near Kumasi (Ghana). In South Africa, Delta is a supporter of the Amy Biel Foundation that works with local townships.

Delta’s Business Internship Program is now in its fifth year. Operating in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Senegal, the programme provides an opportunity to work alongside Delta sales teams in each country, learning about business within a large global organisation, before visiting the airline’s Head Office in Atlanta.

“We’re proud of our history in Africa, which is an important part of Delta’s trans-Atlantic network,” says Eichelgruen. “Over 10 years, we’ve remained focused on delivering innovative products and services to enhance the travel experience for the thousands of customers flying between Africa and the United States each year.”