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Atlanta’s Delta Air Lines a model for corporate America

Delta CEO Ed Bastian celebrates "profit sharing" day on Feb. 14 by unveiling a plane to thank its 90,000 employees (Special: Delta Air Lines)

By Maria Saporta

Bashing business has become a popular sport these days.

And some of that bashing is well deserved.

But we also must celebrate companies when they act in the best interests of their employees, stakeholders, their communities and the world.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines is such a company.

Just this past week, Delta gave its 90,000 employees a collective $1.6 billion in bonus as part of its annual Valentine’s Day tradition. Of the $1.6 billion, $571 million was distributed to employees in Atlanta. (Company officers and executives are not included in those bonuses).

For the event, Delta unveiled a plane dedicated to all of its employees – listing all their names to form the word “thank you” on the airplane. Delta CEO Ed Bastian often jokes that Valentine’s Day is the best day to fly on the airline because all the employees are especially happy on the job.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian celebrates “profit sharing” day on Feb. 14 by unveiling a plane to thank its 90,000 employees (Special: Delta Air Lines)

It’s the sixth straight Valentine’s Day that Delta has distributed bonuses to its employees – one of the largest profit-sharing payouts in corporate America.

It’s the company’s way of thanking its employees who stayed with the airline during the years when it was in bankruptcy and operating in the red. The bonuses also wonderfully align the company’s bottom line with the compensation of employees. If the airline is doing well financially, they will share in Delta’s good fortune.

But Delta didn’t stop there.

On the same day that it distributed the bonuses, Delta announced that starting on March 1, it will commit $1 billion over the next 10 years to mitigate all emissions from its global operations to become the first carbon-neutral airline.

At long last, a major airline is owning up to the environmental costs of the aviation industry and to the perilous issues of climate change.

In a release, Delta said the airline will invest in driving innovation, advancing clean air travel technologies, accelerating the reduction of carbon emissions and waste, and establishing new projects to mitigate the balance of emissions.

“There is no substitute for the power that travel has to connect people, which our world needs today more than ever before,” Bastian said. “As we connect customers around the globe, it is our responsibility to deliver on our promise to bring people together and ensure the utmost care for our environment. The time is now to accelerate our investments and establish an ambitious commitment that the entire Delta team will deliver.”

And that’s not all.

Delta announced in 2016 that it would contribute 1 percent of its net income to charitable organizations each year. In 2019, that amounted to more than $55 million.

Fortunately, Atlanta is Delta’s hometown. That means Atlanta enjoys more than its fair share of Delta’s generosity.

And while I’m doing my own thank you to Delta, I have to mention that its executives have been among the most courageous in Georgia to stand up to discriminatory issues, such as proposed religious freedom legislation and for a reasonable and compassionate immigration policy.

It also is refreshing to see company executives letting it be known that it is pleased with the current governance structure of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport – opposing a state-takeover of what is indisputably the most important economic development asset in Georgia.

Delta recognizes its employees with its Thank You plane (Special: Delta Air Lines)

Lastly, more than any other company in Atlanta today, Delta is stepping up to the leadership plate.

Bastian is chair of the Atlanta Committee for Progress, the influential group of business and civic leaders who serve as a kitchen cabinet for Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Bastian also is chair-elect of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, one of the most important community roles in the region.

And it’s not just Bastian.

Peter Carter, an executive vice president and chief legal officer as well as Delta’s corporate secretary, is the 2020 chair of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

At a time when many of Atlanta’s top corporations are headed by executives who have few civic ties, it’s refreshing to see Delta executives invest both their time and money in the community.

So, thank you Delta Air Lines for helping restore faith in corporate America and for

Let’s hope other companies will follow your lead.


Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.


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  1. Tom Woodward February 18, 2020 11:44 am

    Thank you, Maria, for highlighting Delta’s exemplary leadership!Report

  2. Joe Thomas February 18, 2020 2:03 pm

    Thanks for this nice, positive story Maria.Report

  3. Carol Brantley February 18, 2020 3:51 pm

    Thanks Maria, you are so right. Since Delta sent an empty plane across the Atlantic to bring home the last group of ASO chorus members (including my husband) who were stranded in Berlin just before Christmas due to a winter storm, we would not think of flying any other airline. And they did that without any press releases.Report

    1. Patty Durand February 29, 2020 2:20 pm

      Fly more often Carol. You’ll change your tune.Report

  4. DT February 23, 2020 1:18 pm

    As usual, the news forgets to point out one important fact. Profit Sharing was NEGOTIATED by the pilot group following return from bankruptcy where Delta successfully (criminal) liquidated the pilots’ Retirements. Profit Sharing was negotiated in an attempt to restore some $ to the pilot group. The company then decided to provide this benefit to the other employee groups. Please give credit where credit is due-Delta isn’t a wonderfully benevolent corporation. They’re a business who was forced to pay PS due to negotiations.Report

    1. E February 23, 2020 5:41 pm

      There’s always 1 who just can’t be happy no matter what you give them.Report

      1. Patty Durand February 29, 2020 2:20 pm

        Make that two, E. Wonder how much you fly?Report

  5. Tim Hollick February 24, 2020 7:34 am

    All you have to do is declare bankruptcy once in awhile. And screw your stockholders like you did to me.Report

  6. Patty Durand February 29, 2020 2:18 pm

    I’m a gold medallion flyer on Delta and spend over $10,000 a year on flights that are both work and personal. I am shocked at the kudos from both Maria and the people on this thread. Do you really think a $200 change fee is fair to charge for people whose plans change? People CAN’T HELP THAT PLANS CHANGE. And that’s for a domestic flight – for international is a criminal $400. And that fee is applied even if you are changing from a full flight to one with open seats. Do you really think is okay for seats to shrink to 17.2 inches wide with legroom so tight you can’t pick up something that drops on the floor, and someone reclining into your face causes rage? I’m 5′ 6″ tall and my knees bump the seat in front of me and I can’t shift from side to side – so they can extract maximum profits from each flight? And do you REALLY think it’s okay that not a single thing that is accidentally left on board – no matter how quickly it’s reported and how specific the location reported for the left item, are NEVER found? I had a valuable piece of jewelry and an Apple watch stolen out of a checked bag last month in Little Rock and TSA ruled out their agents by viewing video tapes after it was checked. Delta, of course, not only didn’t recover it but even told what I already know: they don’t even investigate stolen items from checked bags. They wouldn’t even investigate – TSA was more responsive than Delta. Thank goodness I had insurance – Delta surely can’t be counted on to give two craps about lost or stolen items.

    So sure – go ahead and praise Delta’s “generosity”. They can afford to give away billions in bonuses on employees, and shower its base city with gifts, and give shareholders incredible profits. Flyers are suffering in uncomfortable seats swallowing down rage, flyers are charged ridiculous fees for everything from a checked bag to a change fee and even stand-by fees are $75; and easily recovered items are lost forever. My opinion? Let’s tame all this praise until Delta learns how to be good to its customers too. Yes, I enjoy the perks of gold medallion. I no longer pay change fees or sit in tight seats, but others who don’t spend five figures annually do, and I know I’ll be back there some day. Their “corporate behavior” is wrong on many levels.Report


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