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Delta Lies to Protect Its Even Larger Lies
Thursday, May 17, 2018 -- You know how angry you get when an airline ticket agent or gate agent or a flight attendant straight up lies to you?
You wanna know where they get the moxie to do the bald-faced bit?
Permit me to direct your attention to Ed Bastian, chief executive of Delta Air Lines. He's turned Delta into a fantasy factory of lies, misdirection and deception.
He was on board when Delta in the summer of 2016 tried to blame one of its frequent computer meltdowns on the local power utility. Bastian's boys were awash in lies, excuses and weather prevarication last spring when Delta fell down in a rain storm and couldn't get up. And there's always SkyMiles, based on tactics so abusive that Delta once informed the U.S. Supreme Court it rejected any "duty of good faith and fair dealing."
But Crazy Eddie was personally on the front line of falsehoods this week by claiming Delta dropped its Atlanta-Dubai nonstops in 2016 because "that was one of the markets that we've been run out of." Bastian's comments were carried with straight-faced credulity by both the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Wall Street Journal.
The problem with Bastian's comment? It's a flat-out lie.
No carrier ever competed against Delta on the Atlanta/Hartsfield-Dubai route. It had the market--connecting Hartsfield, the world's busiest airport, and Dubai, the third busiest--to itself. It had a monopoly from 2007 to 2016, the years it operated the nonstop between its fortress hub at Hartsfield and Dubai, the hometown and hub of Emirates Airline.
In fact, a high-ranking executive who worked at Emirates for most of the years that Delta ran its Dubai service specifically referenced Delta's "perceived dominance" in Atlanta, where it controls 72.7 percent of the traffic, for Emirates' decision to pass on Hartsfield.
"Delta would never allow interlining" if Emirates, which now flies from a dozen U.S. airports, tried to add an Atlanta route. "It would be difficult to channel traffic over Atlanta." Besides, he told me, "Delta has a strong influence over the operation of [Hartsfield], so we could expect little help from the airport authorities."
As you recall, in 2015 Delta was the driving force behind the creation of a farcical coalition whose sole purpose was to slime the so-called Gulfies. But after three years of preposterous and unsupportable claims and the odd bit of racism, the U.S. carriers and the Gulfies have come to an agreement. Qatar and the U.S. government cut a deal in January. The United Arab Emirates and the Trump Administration finalized theirs last week.
The gain to the U.S. side? Nothing. Not even a promise that the Gulf carriers won't eventually launch more "fifth freedom" flights between the United States and Europe. Of course, the deals were written so that both sides could save face, admit nothing and claim victory.
That diplomatic nicety gave Bastian the opening to lie about Delta's Atlanta-Dubai flights. He also lied liberally about Delta's disappearance from India, a market where the airline has now lined up a vassal (Jet Airways). But let's stick with the Dubai lie because it's so much easier to debunk and examine Delta's shameless deceptions.
As you can see on the chart, Delta was the first airline to fly to Dubai from the United States. That service didn't last long--and Delta wasn't smart enough to cut a code-sharing deal with Emirates, which began flying in 1985.
Emirates didn't start flying to the United States until 2004. It was still a one-city operation (JFK) when Delta launched its Atlanta-Dubai route in May, 2007. And for more than four years after Delta's Dubai launch, Emirates focused on logical cities for its expansion: Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco, all hubs for its then-code-share partner, United Airlines.
If you somehow wanted to make the case for Bastian's lie, you could focus on the fact that Emirates has relentlessly built Dubai as a transit hub for traffic between the Americas and huge markets where the U.S. airlines in particular are weakest: the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East and Africa. (Dubai is literally at the crossroads of the world, within an eight-hour flight of around 80 percent of the population and about two-thirds of the gross domestic product.) Although exact figures are hard to come by, probably two-thirds of Emirates' U.S. traffic is headed to destinations other than Dubai.
So if you believe Emirates was poaching connecting traffic to Dubai that Delta "deserved" with its LAX, SFO and Houston launches, Emirates' next tranche of routes are even more "damning." It added Dallas/Fort Worth, Washington/Dulles and Seattle flights in 2012--and struck a code-share deal with JetBlue Airways. Then came Boston and Chicago/O'Hare in 2014. The announcement of Orlando flights in March, 2015, would clearly have been in Delta's Atlanta wheelhouse. Code-sharing with Alaska Airlines later that year could be seen as a strike at Delta, too, since Delta was busily attacking Alaska Air and flooding Sea-Tac with flights in order to build an Asia hub.
But this stretches logic to the breaking point. Besides, it doesn't change the fact that Delta owns Atlanta, the world's busiest transit hub, and the traffic in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky. It also dominates in parts of Ohio, Missouri, Indiana and the Carolinas. Even if Emirates was "stealing" feeder traffic from Delta in some markets, Delta continued to own the gigantic Hartsfield catchment area and more than 70 percent of the hundreds of million of flyers who used Atlanta each year. And even without a beyond-Dubai route network to capture onward travelers, Delta surely should have been able to profitably support one flight a day to the economic centerpiece of the modern Arab world. In fact, more than a few savvy observers insist Delta's Atlanta-Dubai flights were profitable.
Inevitably, you come to the same conclusion Karen Walker reached three years ago when she called out Delta's Dubai gambit: Delta dropped the route to buttress its literally unbelievable construct about the Gulf carriers.
What does any of this mean for those of us who travel to and from the Middle East or India or any place that Emirates or Delta flies? (By the way, Emirates claims about two-thirds of the destinations on its route map aren't even served by U.S. airlines.) What does Bastian's despicable lie mean?
Practically, not much. Delta will or won't resume flying to Dubai or India and you'll decide whether you'll use it or Emirates or some other airline based on price, convenience, comfort and your commitment to SkyMiles. Just like you do now.
Emotionally, though, it's important to know that Bastian and other airline bosses are the reasons why an overworked gate agent or an overwhelmed flight attendant feels empowered to lie to you with such impunity.
Bastian and the C-suite boys not only condone the lies, they also are the intellectual leaders of an industry that surfs on an all-too-obvious web of deceptions, distortions and disinformation.
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