Delta – Still Going Strong


From humble beginnings in 1924 as Huff Daland Dusters – a small aerial crop dusting operation in Macon, Georgia – Delta Air Lines has grown into not only an American aviation giant, but also a global airline with a fleet of more than 700 aircraft and 12 hubs on three continents.

It didn’t take long for the potential of Huff Daland Dusters to be spotted, with the operation bought by Delta and the first passenger service between Dallas and Jackson, Mississippi launched on 17 June, 1929.

In 1936, as its network expanded eastward, Delta moved its flight operations office and maintenance shops to Atlanta. By early 1941, over half of Delta employees were based in Atlanta, as the city became increasingly important to Delta’s growth. On 1 March 1941, Delta’s corporate headquarters officially moved to Atlanta when the lease of property at the Municipal Airport went into effect. Today, Delta has more than 27,000 employees in Atlanta, both at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and its corporate headquarters adjacent to the airport. Hartsfield-Jackson has a direct impact of more than $32.5 billion on the metro area economy according to the airport estimates.

Delta has 333 destinations – 227 within the U.S. and 106 internationally. In addition to its home city Atlanta, the hubs are located in Amsterdam (Netherlands), Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York-JFK, New York-LaGuardia, Paris-Charles de Gaulle (France), Salt Lake City, Seattle and Tokyo-Narita (Japan).

Atlanta’s location puts it within a two-hour flight of 80% of the American population and 119 of the nation’s 150 largest metropolitan areas, resulting in Atlanta’s rise as the world’s largest airline hub. It has been the busiest passenger airport in the world every year since 1998.

This is where Delta stands out for the African business community, as it offers connecting flights to more than 180 domestic American destinations from the non-stop services from Africa to hubs in Atlanta and New York. The flights are also timed to fit with the business day.

Expanding into Africa
Delta launched flights to Africa in December 2006, as part of an expansion drive that opened up 13 new international routes in just over a year. Until Delta’s entry into Africa, no major U.S. carrier had flown to sub-Saharan Africa since Pan Am in the late 1980s. These early flights linked Johannesburg (South Africa) and Atlanta, via Dakar (Senegal), and Accra (Ghana) with New York-JFK. In 2007, the airline added a flight to Lagos (Nigeria).

“In 2009, Delta began the only non-stop service between South Africa and the United States,” says Jimmy Eichelgruen, Director – Sales: Africa Middle East & Indian Sub-Continent. “Today, we continue to offer non-stop flights to these four cities, which total more than 20 a week, and remain the only U.S. airline with non-stop flights from both Senegal and Ghana to the U.S. Historically, American air travellers had to make connections through Europe. Delta’s non-stop and direct Africa flights reduce travel time.”

Delta believes that Africa is a region with enormous potential, and it continues to invest in the continent in order to offer a quality service for its customers. “On the ground, we have launched such initiatives as opening two dedicated departure gates at Accra’s Kotoka Airport in partnership with KLM, where customers benefit from improved seating and air-conditioning,” says Eichelgruen.

As the Ebola epidemic continues to affect travel to West Africa, Delta is complying with all safety measures implemented by airports and government authorities in the affected regions, and at the time of going to print, its flights from Africa were running as planned.

Beyond its route network, Delta supports local community affairs projects in Ghana. Through its association with the Ghana Red Cross Society, Delta has supported the anti-malaria programme with training and the distribution of over 4,000 mosquito nets.

Further to that, in both West and East Africa, Delta has partnered with local business schools to launch a business internship programme across Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Kenya. The interns spend a year working alongside the Delta sales teams in each country, learning about business within a large global organisation, before concluding with a visit to the Delta head office in Atlanta.

“We are very proud of this programme, as it not only demonstrates our commitment to the African nations we serve, but also mentors the African business leaders of tomorrow,” says Eichelgruen.

IATA figures show that travel between Africa and the U.S. grew by 7% between 2008 and 2012, and this trend is predicted to continue. Among the established markets, Kenya and South Africa will remain among the leaders, but West Africa, a region to which Delta has the majority of it flights, will likely see even stronger growth.

Evolving onboard offerings
Delta has made significant investments to its service offering over the past 10 years, and continues to do so. The installation of full flat-bed seats on its international widebody fleet has been completed, so services to Lagos, Accra and Johannesburg all offer increased comfort, as well as direct aisle access. Delta’s fleet of Boeing 757s, which serves Dakar, will be retrofitted by mid-2015.

Delta has introduced Economy Comfort, a Premium Economy cabin that has proved very popular. These seats feature up to 10 centimetres more legroom and 50% more recline than Delta’s standard international Economy Class seats, plus priority boarding and spirits available during the flight.

“We have also refurbished the Economy cabin with seats that provide additional legroom, adjustable headrests, personal in-seat entertainment screens with over 350 films, 250 TV shows, 100 hours of HBO, 4,500 songs and 30 games, and USB power at each seat,” says Eichelgruen. “In addition, passengers enjoy an improved menu, a sleep kit and a bottle of water.”

Despite being a global airline, Delta is working hard to localise its onboard hospitality. With around 90% of customers on the Africa routes being of African origin, the airline is accommodating these passengers’ service preferences by adapting its onboard product. This includes creating meals using local ingredients to appeal to customers’ tastes.

“Even serving a greater selection of fruit juices instead of soda and replacing pasta with rice has secured positive feedback,’ says Eichelgruen. “In Ghana, we have introduced locally-produced chocolate to serve on board, which supports the local economy.”

Stay ahead of changing needs
Travellers today are more connected. The days of switching your phone and email off when you board a flight are gone. Airlines are recognising this and Delta is taking steps to ensure passengers can interact with people on the ground and not lose valuable working hours while flying.

“Wi-Fi is also being installed on our international fleet following its successful implementation on U.S. domestic aircraft,” says Eichelgruen. “The programme will be complete by the end of 2015 so all customers, no matter where they flying, will be able to send emails and surf the internet above 10,000 feet.”

On the ground, BusinessElite passengers travelling to and from Lagos and Accra benefit from Delta’s protocol service at the airport. This offers a personalised escort through every step of the airport experience – from checking in, security clearance and lounge pick-up, to arrival and baggage collection speeding up the journey.

Among its most successful codeshare agreements, Delta entered into a joint venture with Virgin Atlantic for flights between the United Kingdom and the United States.

“The strength of Delta’s network in the United States and Virgin Atlantic’s at London Heathrow delivers a strong network proposition,” says Eichelgruen. “This network is continuing to grow, but we currently operate up to 33 daily flights across the Atlantic.”

Codeshare services between Delta and Virgin Atlantic began on 1 July 2013, and anti-trust immunity was obtained in September 2013. The joint venture provides a premier service between North America and the U.K. that offers real competition for the first time in the world’s largest business travel market – with nine flights a day between London and New York, increasing to 10 in 2015.

Delta/Virgin Atlantic offer a seamless customer experience with a complementary product offering, including direct aisle access, forward facing seats, co-location of facilities in London and New York for seamless travel, global lounge access, and frequent flyer programmes that maximise flight privileges for customers to earn and burn miles.

“On 26 October, our partnership grew further as we took over one of Virgin Atlantic’s daily London Heathrow-Los Angeles flights, and they begin operating one of our current London Heathrow-Atlanta flights,” says Eichelgruen.

In July 2014, Delta signed an enhanced partnership agreement with Kenya Airways with the intention of connecting customers to its Accra-New York-JFK flights. “There is high demand in Africa for travel to the U.S. and given both Delta and Kenya Airways are part of the SkyTeam alliance, this was a natural partnership,” says Eichelgruen.

“This year, we are celebrating our 85th anniversary, which is an incredible achievement,” he says. “Like a lot of companies, we have had difficult times, but over the past five years, we have gone from strength to strength.”

There’s little doubt that an airline with such a proud history will be traversing the skies for years to come.

Kate Kennedy