The Delta Spirit

"The cold air from Canada swept down over Lake Michigan and sent shivers down my spine even in the daytime if I was not wearing a jacket. From early evening into the night, the temperature dropped even further to less than 10 degrees Celsius, and not many people could be seen in downtown Chicago. During the Consumer Electronics Show, the weather in Chicago was indeed a little abnormal.

"I arrived in Chicago on June 3, and around noon on June 5 I headed south on a Delta Air Lines flight. From inside the plane I could see the clouds changing shape and color, from cold hues to cumulonimbus clouds that seemed like a sign of summer. I like summer best of all, so the feeling that we really were flying south excited me very much.

"The Japanese sitting next to me then asked, 'By the way, have you heard of the Delta spirit?' I turned my gaze from the bright skies outside the plane to my fellow passenger and replied, 'The Delta spirit?' 'Yes,' he said, 'the Delta spirit.' 'What is that?' I asked, suddenly remembering that I was on a Delta flight and wanting to know the answer quickly.

"'Even today it's continuing to an extent, but there was a time when the air fare discount war was most intense. Airline companies made discounts and offered excessive frills in order to attract customers. The business routes along the East Coast were especially caught up in the battle.' 'Yes, I do remember,' I muttered. 'About two or three years ago I saw some news about Delta and American Airlines doing battle over fare discounts.'

"'Yes, I'm sure it would have been news in Japan too,' said the Japanese. 'As a result, Delta's business situation worsened, and it was unable to introduce new aircraft. Upon which a lot of people, including current and former employees, sprang into action, saying that the company had done a lot for them in the past and that now, when the company was suffering, was the time to give back. And what do you think they did? They presented the company with a new passenger plane!'

"I looked at the Japanese with disbelief and said, 'You mean all the current employees and former employees donated money?' One passenger jet would cost around \10 billion. It would be impossible to gather that amount unless each individual contributed quite a lot of money. Even Japanese businessmen, who are known superficially to love their company, could not be expected to present their company with a considerable amount of money to the detriment of their families. In their enthusiasm for work people might be willing to spend an exorbitant amount of time and energy, but they are less generous when it comes to economic matters. The same is true not only in Japan but also in the West. And I'm sure that's the general attitude. 'That's going a little far, isn't it?' I said. 'But what amazing company loyalty . . . !'

"'As a result, people thought that the planes of such a company must be safe,' the Japanese went on, 'so the number of passengers choosing Delta increased even though its fares were a little higher than others. Delta's business situation improved, too. I use Delta because of the punctuality and friendly service. Other companies have frequent strikes, do not treat their passengers very well, and don't keep their cabins all that clean, either.'

"At Atlanta Airport, which is Delta's home, there is a huge panel proclaiming the Delta spirit, and the airline is continuing to grow on the basis of that motto."

Actually, this article is a reproduction of a column I wrote way back in the August 1985 issue of our magazine. When I heard the news about Japan Airlines Corporation suffering a management crisis and turning to Delta for assistance, I recalled the "Delta spirit."

Amid the worldwide simultaneous recession, I wonder where the spirit of company loyalty has gone. The JAL news brought back memories of that glittering time.