[Interview Article] Partnerships with Korean companies help Delta Air Lines' post-pandemic recovery
with Korean companies help Delta Air Lines' post-pandemic recovery
By Lee Hae-rin, The Korea Times - Delta Air
Lines was able to stage a spectacular recovery with the number of its Korea-US
flights reaching 110 percent of pre-pandemic levels, thanks to close
partnerships with Korean carriers and airports, Delta's Vice President of Asia
Pacific Matteo Curcio said.
Delta, ranked at the top for the second consecutive year in the Wall Street
Journal's 2023 Airline Scorecard, along with its Korean partners ― Korean Air
and Incheon International Airport Corp (IIAC) were able to "learn from
each other and improve safety standards in a timely manner" as the
COVID-19 pandemic hit the travel industry hard, Curcio said during a recent
interview with The Korea Times.
Like any other airline in the travel and tourism industry, Delta was hit hard
by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it tried to maintain trust with its
customers by leading social distancing on planes. It was the first U.S. airline
to choose not to sell the middle seats in planes from April 2020 and the last
to end the distancing regulations in April the year after.
"It was not an easy decision … but it was a 'virtuous cycle,'" Curcio
said, explaining the airline's safety standards and corporate culture focusing
on its workers and customers. "If we take care of our people, our people
will take care of our customers, who will then continue to make Delta their
airline of choice. So it's kind of a triangle."
In the meantime, the carrier also retired almost 200 aircraft and replaced them
with more fuel-efficient ones. All Korea-U.S. flights are operated on the newly
acquired Airbus 350-900 and Airbus 330-900.
As borders reopen and demand for travel rebounds, Delta is quickly recovering
from the pandemic in the Korean market and abroad.
The airline added three more weekly flights between Incheon and Seattle last
December, now serving 10 flights every week between the two cities and
surpassing 10 percent of the pre-pandemic number of flights back in 2019. It
also plans to launch its first-ever service from Auckland to Los Angeles this
Delta became the first foreign airline to sign a partnership agreement with
Incheon Airport in March 2018 to collaborate on initiatives to enhance the
traveler experience and make Incheon Asia's leading transit hub. The airline
has been the third largest passenger provider after the two top domestic
full-service carriers ― Korean Air and Asiana ― to Incheon Airport during the
past three months, according to the IIAC.
In May of 2018, Delta also launched a joint venture ― the strongest form of
partnership among airlines where partners coordinate on route planning and
share revenues on a route ― with Korean Air. Korean Air is its only joint
venture partner in Asia.
The three stakeholders ― two full-service carriers and the airport ―
"faced similar issues," under the testing times of the pandemic,
Curcio explained, and decided to "get closer to share best practices"
in response to safety due to constantly changing travel regulations.
Delta and Korean Air each deployed their safety program "Delta
CareStandard," and "Care First," respectively, to protect their
employees and passengers from the coronavirus. However, under the joint
venture, they shared ideas and best practices from each other's safety programs
and deployed them at airports in Korea and other countries. As result, the airlines and Incheon airport could offer, in Curcio's words,
"possibly the world's safest travel standards" at the time, which
wouldn't have been possible without the cooperation of Incheon airport.
Also, the partnerships resulted in more diverse and convenient travel options
for passengers, he said. Delta and Korean Air agree not to overlap flight
schedules, thereby providing more travel options to passengers with diverse
needs, from business to leisure travel. Also, their cooperation with the
airport accelerated connection times to a minimum of 45 minutes while
transferring at Incheon airport from one airline to another.
Several key factors were behind selecting the Korean carrier and IIAC as
Delta's prime partners, Curcio said.
Along with Incheon's geographic advantage of being the "first entry
point" from the U.S. to Asia, the award-winning airport in Incheon also
has a uniquely centralized system for receiving transcontinental flights and a
highly efficient facility, Curcio said. Neighboring China and Japan have
several airports receiving international flights, whereas Incheon receives most
of the international flights as a government-designated hub airport since its
establishment in 2001. The second largest international airport here, Gimpo
airport, can only receive flights from within a 2,000-kilometer range.
Furthermore, the growing economic alliance between the two countries at nearly
$40 billion is "exciting" for the American airline, leaving no room
for doubt in strengthening its partnership with Korean companies.
Last July, the White House announced that Korea's second largest conglomerate,
SK Group, will invest $22 billion in high-priority industries including
semiconductors, green energy and bioscience, creating tens of thousands of jobs
in the U.S. Samsung also announced plans to invest $17 billion to build a new
semiconductor facility in the U.S.
While the alliance between the two countries grows, Delta plans to provide a
"dream network" (of travel) to its customers by combining Delta's 290
destinations from the Americas ― including Canada, Mexico, and Latin America ―
with over 80 destinations that Korean Air serves in Asia.
From his 20 years of experience in the airline industry, Curcio believes that
post-pandemic travel trends hinge on making the passenger experience more
personal, convenient and sustainable.
Delta plans to launch a service where passengers can be free from the baggage
claim system during transit flights, starting in the second quarter of this
year. Also, all international flights will offer a free Wi-Fi service and a
personalized digital screen on board starting in 2024, the airline announced
during CES 2023, the U.S. consumer electronics show.
"We don't have to choose between seeing the world and saving the
world," he said, explaining that the airline is committed to achieving net
zero emissions by 2050 and recruited a chief sustainability officer last February.The airline also made agreements with Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) suppliers
DG Fuels and Gevo, according to which, Delta will receive a total of 130
million gallons of SAF combined from two suppliers annually for seven years.
The contract with Gevo starts in mid-2026, while the deal with DG Fuels begins
at the end of 2027.
Currently, Delta provides 31 flights every week from Incheon to four U.S.
destinations ― Seattle, Atlanta, Detroit, and Minneapolis ― with an average
seat occupancy rate of 92 percent, as of the second half of 2022.
Delta operates over 1,200 commercial airplanes and offers 4,000 flights daily
to 275 destinations on six continents. Its headquarters is located in Atlanta,
Georgia, and the airline has over 90,000 employees worldwide.