Forecasting the Future of Flight with Delta’s Ed Bastian

“When I graduated from college, I never even had set foot on an airplane,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian told the crowd in his first appearance on Center Stage at GBTA Convention 2017. Bastian is now the head of one of the largest global airlines and spoke with GBTA Executive Director and COO Mike McCormick about what the future looks like for Delta and the travel industry as a whole.

McCormick focused the conversation on important advocacy issues including open skies and air traffic control (ATC) privatization. “We are huge advocates of open skies,” Bastian said, “but open skies is not a substitute for free skies – it has got to be fair.” He called open skies an issue for the future of our U.S. industry, and believes the government needs to look into it, weigh in and make certain if it is in the best interest of the United States. Bastian stressed this was not about protectionism and more about enforcing the law. “We are confident we can compete with anyone when given an equal chance,” he added. In regards to privatization, he believes modernization is the goal and that privatization provides the framework to get to that. He said, most importantly, Delta is in favor of having the structure and mechanism in place to actually implement the modernization of our nation’s air traffic control system.

The two discussed Delta’s investments in other carriers and the importance of airline alliances. Alliances provide an umbrella framework to focus on items like loyalty and access to gating at airports. For Delta to make a significant step forward though, they are investing with the customer in mind to eliminate seams between airlines, and that means investments in other carriers.

Additionally, as new developments roll out in safety and security procedures, Bastian envisions airlines engaging more with Homeland Security to optimize safety, making all travelers more secure.

He also commented that the best way to take care of an unpleasant travel experience is to “treat the customer how we would want to be treated”.  Social media plays a big role in the attention drawn to negative experiences and being mindful of that can actually help prevent poor behavior as a company.

When asked what comes next for Delta, Bastian said, “People will continue to be rewarded and supported and that is always number one for us.”  Delta will also continue to accelerate globalization of its network and work to introduce new technology into their business model. They plan on investing $500 million in technology alone, in order to better connect with their customers.

So what makes Delta so different?  “It’s all about our people,” Bastian said. “It’s our competitive strength… the only truly distinct thing about an airline is its people, and that’s what I’m most proud of – the culture of Delta.”

Want more? View the full Center Stage one-on-one interview on our YouTube channel.