By Maria Saporta
The death of Cuba’s longtime leader Fidel Castro last week will not impact Delta Air Lines’ plans to inaugurate service from Atlanta to Havana on Dec. 1, according to Ed Bastian, the airline’s CEO.
“Nothing has changed,” said Bastian, who called the Cuban market “fascinating” for the long term. He added the U.S. government is allowing flights into the island before many of the trade restrictions have been lifted, which will make the business model it a bit of a challenge.
But Bastian said it would be good for the consumer. “You will see good travel bargains,” he said.
Bastian responded to questions about the reintroduction of U.S. flights to Cuba after having a public conversation the Rotary Club of Atlanta on Monday with Hala Moddelmog, the president and CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber.
Delta’s first flight ceremonial plans, however, did change following Castro’s death. Cuba is going through nine days of mourning where there are limited opportunities to celebrate the new service.
“The festivities will certainly happen in Atlanta,” Bastian said, who added that Delta wanted to “be sensitive” to the historical moment in Cuba by foregoing any VIP events in Havana.
When asked about the presidential transition occurring in the United States, Bastian said he would support the status quo, implying support for the executive order that President Barack Obama had implemented to build diplomatic ties with Cuba and reduce travel and trade restrictions with the island nation has been a thorn for the United States for more than five decades.
President-elect Donald Trump, during the campaign, had said he would reverse Obama’s executive order regarding Cuba.
“We are hoping the current policy will continue and bring them into the international community of nations,” Bastian said. “There is no turning back. Our job is to make the world a smaller place.”
During a wide-ranging conversation with Moddelmog, Bastian talked about the airline’s commitment to Atlanta and its employees. Delta has made a commitment to donate at least 1 percent of its net earnings on charitable giving, which is good news for Atlanta.
“This year, we are going to put $10 million into Atlanta,” Bastian said. “It’s your loyalty that makes it possible.”
He also highlighted the profit-sharing day Delta celebrated last Valentine’s Day when the airline gave its employees a $1.5 billion as part of its profit-sharing program, which is considered the largest profit sharing in corporate history.
Bastian said that ended up putting $500 million into the pockets of Atlanta residents.
Bastian also said that for the next two years, the airline sees more opportunities domestically rather than internationally, given uncertainties in the world. And that also will be good news for Atlanta.
“We are going to be growing in Atlanta by 3 to 4 percent next year,” Bastian said. “This year, we grew 5 percent in Atlanta. We are going to be investing in the United States.”