What Delta Air Lines’ Richard “Ferocious” Anderson should have said.

About a week ago, former Northwest Airlines CEO Richard Anderson took over as the CEO of Delta Air Lines.

One of his first comments was not about what it should have been about. Instead, it was about his competition:


In the Atlanta Business Journal article, Anderson is quoted as being “focused” and then is quoted as saying “We will be ferocious competitors. We like to keep our customers and we like to keep our market share and we like to grow our markets.”

These are accounting numbers, buzzwords to keep the media interested, or fend off the union boss temporarily, or whatever.

These are not the words of a guy who has a pile of cranky customers in a market that is full of cranky customers who are tired of being treated only marginally better than criminals on a prison bus.

So what should Mr. Anderson be talking about? Here’s a hypothetical example:

To his board: I have instructed our management team to sell all of our private corporate jets unless they can be put to use in our new Elite service. Our staff will fly Delta, including the board and myself. Only by experiencing what our customers experience will provide us with what we need to make the best possible decisions in the boardroom. Our board will work the front lines of our business for the next 30 days in order to educate ourselves about the state of our business, the needs of our customers, and challenges we are placing in their path.

To his customers: Our goal is to make you want to fly Delta because you find every other airline unacceptable. To accomplish this, we will start with “The Five Things I Love About Delta”.

Number One: Comfort. All coach seats are being removed and replaced with the seats you normally find in the First Class cabin. First Class cabins are being fitted with seats normally found on long international flights.  We understand that arriving at your destination safely is important, but arriving there wrinkled, sweaty, and feeling beat up is not what will happen when you fly with Delta. Current novels and internet service will offer additional comforts for those who wish to use them.

Number Two:  Food. What little food we serve has gotten pretty bad over the last 6 years. Not any more. We have asked Food Network’s chefs to design a new menu for us. Healthy, filling and fresh is their goal. Service as good as our First Class service is what you should expect on our flights. We have contracted with a coffee roasting expert from Billings MT to help us radically improve the coffee served on our flights.

Number Three:  Frequent fliers. Because every seat (and meal) on our planes are now as nice you would expect from the old Delta’s First Class, our SkyMiles program is going to concentrate on rewarding you for flying more often with us. Our new Elite private/regional luxury jet service will also participate in this program, both for earning miles and requesting award flights.

Number Four:  Terminals. Our existing terminal spaces are uncomfortable and noisy. We have worked out remodeling and engineering changes to the 20 busiest terminals for our travelers and will within 90 days have “Crown Room” class seating in the public terminal area. These changes will also be rolled out to our remaining terminals, starting with the 20 busiest ones left to refurbish.

Number Five: Pricing. Obviously, the changes I just discussed are not inexpensive to provide. As a result, our prices will not be the cheapest available. If you want to fly in a cramped, hot cabin with no legroom and lousy or non-existent snacks, you can purchase that level of air travel service is available on other airlines. Delta will no longer compete in that market. If you want to be treated like an honored guest and you’re willing to pay a little more to have a far more pleasant, enjoyable trip, fly Delta.

To his employees: Three words: “No matter what”

No matter what else you do, keep these things in mind as you help our customers travel:

1) No matter what, the safety of our customers and our crews is more important than anything. Effective immediately, anyone has the right to stop a flight from leaving the gate, or leaving the ground, if they have a safety concern. This includes extended tarmac parking. We do not leave the gate unless we are confident that we will be in the air in 30 minutes or less. If circumstances change, we will return to the gate whether the airport likes it or not. We will not waste our customers’ time, nor the time of our crews and aircraft by sitting on the tarmac for hours.

2) No matter what, every single customer is precious and I expect them to be cared for as if they were your child, parent or grandparent. If one flier leaves us for another airline, it affects you and I deeply over the long term. Every customer can destroy our company, simply by having a poor experience with a pilot, flight attendant, ticket agent or baggage handler.  Effective today, poor experiences are what other airlines deliver, not Delta. In order to provide energy, ideas and initiative, we will be delivering a series of regular, vastly-improved training sessions designed to help us constantly improve the service our customers receive.

3) No matter what, take care of each other and improve the way you do your job every day. Advise us what you need to do your job better. Advise us how other areas of our business can get better. These 3 things will allow us to pay you for the quality of service you deliver, and allow you to once again love your job and love helping our customers travel, which in turn will result in the loyalty to Delta like we’ve never seen.

To the geeks: DNS 1.0 has what I need know to run the business we have yesterday and today. DNS 2.0 should be smarter. Make it figure out and tell me what it’s going to know. Make it tell me what I need to know to make decisions that will affect Delta 3 years from now. Make it help our staff know the things they need to know so they can help our customers make the decision to fly Delta and no one else. Our ability to serve our customers better than anyone else, and do so while making a profit, is dependent on the information you provide to every Delta employee from the baggage handler to the board.

To his stockholders: Buy and hold our stock for 5 years or longer, and you will be rewarded. Our “Five Things” plan will not be inexpensive, but it will produce long-term, loyal customers who will fill our planes at higher than market prices – and be happy to do so because of the value we deliver to them. If I fail to make the Delta stock you own worth more in 5 years than it is today, then I will return every dime of salary that I earn as Delta’s CEO.

Ok, maybe it’s a little far-fetched, but the point is customer-focused, not competitor-focused. It’s fine to be a ferocious competitor, just be sure you’re paying attention to the customer while you’re growling at all those other airlines.