When Delta Air Lines moved its headquarters to Atlanta from Monroe, La., in 1941, it was a small, regional carrier that operated eight flights per day.
Seven decades later, it’s hard to take a deep breath without a Delta plane touching down or pulling up its wheels.
“When you think about it, now we have a takeoff or landing every 45 seconds, and we have only blue sky ahead of us,” said Delta CEO Richard Anderson at a celebration marking the airline’s 70 years in Atlanta.
Delta held the huge event Friday, Jan. 21 inside one of its maintenance hangars at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Some 2,500 employees were expected to participate.
Business leaders and elected officials also gathered to mark the occasion in the shadow of a Boeing 777-200LR aircraft that had come in the day before from Dubai and would depart the following day for Johannesburg.
They hailed Delta, which now serves 367 destinations in 67 countries, as both a symbol and facilitator of Atlanta’s rise as a global player in transportation and commerce.
“Because of Delta our community has become one of the world’s most vibrant leading centers of travel, of tourism and of entertainment,” said Coca-Cola Co. Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent.
The longstanding ties between Delta and Coke were repeatedly emphasized by executives and government officials.
Mr. Anderson led a Coca-Cola toast, and as the event concluded, a video projected on the side of the massive Boeing 777 culminated with a digital splash of Coca-Cola that christened the plane the “Spirit of Atlanta.”
Newly inaugurated Gov. Nathan Deal praised the companies for making Georgia known around the world.
“They have not only become partners in their own right, but they have truly become the international ambassadors for the state of Georgia,” Mr. Deal said. “When somebody thinks of our state all around the world, usually they will mention one or the other, and if they are really astute, they’ll mention both.”
Despite its international expansion, Delta has remained engaged in its hometown community.
The airline has been an “indispensible” supporter for the Woodruff Arts Center, which is home to the High Museum of Art and other institutions, Joe Bankoff, the center’s president and CEO, told GlobalAtlanta.
Not only does Delta lend its name and backing for events held locally, it provides convenient access across the country and around the world. That makes it possible for the Alliance Theatre to do national casting calls and for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra to perform in venues from Berlin to New York, Mr. Bankoff said.
“How do you get to Carnegie Hall? It’s not just practice, practice, practice. It’s Delta,” he said.
As part of the celebration, Delta honored its most frequent flyer, Ed Robinette.
A former executive for Panasonic in the U.S., Mr. Robinette has accumulated 7 million Delta SkyMiles since Delta launched its frequent-flier program in 1981.
He estimates that about 70 percent of his miles came from domestic flights, the rest coming from international. He went to Tokyo nine times last year and once to Malaysia, among other trips, he told GlobalAtlanta.
“I’ve flown 7 million miles, and I can honestly say I don’t remember a single bad experience,” he said.
His memorable flight was a 26-minute jaunt from Knoxville, Tenn., to Atlanta, during which he met his wife, a Delta flight attendant.
At the celebration, Delta also honored Cheryll Davis, the company’s most active community volunteer, and Lynda Lloyd, a flight attendant who joined the company in 1964 and is the longest-serving Delta employee in Atlanta.
Delta emerged from bankruptcy in 2007, bought Northwest Airlines Corp. in 2008 and had a tough year in 2009 before posting its most profitable year in a decade during 2010.
The company has about 25,000 employees in Atlanta, making it one of the largest employers in Georgia.