With Delta Air Lines Inc. having completed its joint venture with Aeromexico, the Atlanta-based carrier sees a new level of integration with its partner across the border.
And with that camaraderie codified in a 49 percent investment stake, CEO Ed Bastian said (without mentioning the president explicitly) that the airline has little patience for the protectionist views espoused by President Donald Trump.
“We truly look at Aeromexico as an extension of Delta,” Mr. Bastian said in a speech to annual convention of the Hispanic Corporate Council of Atlanta event held at the Delta Flight Museum. “I don’t know what they’re going to do with the wall they keep talking about, but we’re going to fly over that damn thing, whatever it is. We’re not going to let a little wall get in the way of progress and taking care of people.”
“We’re not going to let a little wall get in the way of progress and taking care of people.”
The fear at the heart of protectionism flies in the face of Delta’s expansion as a global airline, Mr. Bastian said, running contrary to its goal of making the world safer, more connected and more inclusive.
“There’s a lot of anxiety, a lot of fear that cuts into the heart of who we are as a society. It’s caused a lot of people to wonder what’s going on and where are we going,” he said.
He praised the contribution of the company’s Hispanic employees and the role of Atlanta itself in the both the company’s diversity efforts and its expansion throughout Latin America. Delta now owns a stake in Aeromexico as well as Brazil’s Gol Airlines, and Mr. Bastian has a board seat on both.
“I think Atlanta is one of the most inclusive and diverse places that we operate from in the world, not just in the United States,” Mr. Bastian said, later adding: “We need to reflect the communities and customers that we serve on a global scale. That needs to be the face of Delta, and I think that is something that Delta can distinctly and uniquely do.”
He said Delta’s true character came out during the crises across Latin America, the Caribbean and south Florida over the last month, as Mexico faced earthquakes that destroyed buildings in the capital and killed a combined 300 people across the country.
Puerto Rico, another Delta market, was pummeled by two separate hurricanes. The latter, Maria, left unprecedented devastation in its wake, with widespread power outages and damage to infrastructure. In many cases, Delta had the first plane in and the last one out, with later humanitarian flights aiding in the recovery, Mr. Bastian said.
“It is a gut check, and it’s one of those things where we realize how volatile and dangerous a world we live in and the important role we all play in keeping the world united as we go through all that,” he said.
Delta has donated more than $2 million to the Red Cross to help with recovery from hurricanes Harvey and Irma in the U.S.
Nicolas Ferri, Delta’s Mexico City-based vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean, said Mr. Bastian has a unique chance to shape the future of the airline industry in the region by virtue of his board positions.
Delta itself has seen a rapid shift toward the Americas over the past few years, with the stated goal of becoming the top U.S. carrier to the region. Atlanta, its hometown hub, has been core to that effort.
“We’ve grown over 40 percent our seat share over the last few years; we’ve done so profitably, and in so doing we’ve created countless opportunities for a lot of people like myself to grow within this company and to really better themselves,” said Mr. Ferri, who was born in Uruguay.
Many Delta employees were among the hundreds of attendees at the Hispanic Corporate Council of Atlanta event, which allowed members to network with top executives from Kaiser Permanente, IBM and other companies.
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