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Delta CEO Bastian Sees 2021 in “Two Distinct Phases”

Coming months “most difficult yet” but the airline expects to see positive cash flow by spring

January 6, 2021

In a New Year’s memo to employees, Delta’s CEO Ed Bastian said he believes the year ahead would likely come in “two distinct phases.” The first, he predicted, will “look a lot like 2020, with travel demand deeply depressed and our focus on ensuring the health and safety of our people and customers.”

The second phase will begin “only when we reach a turning point with widely available vaccinations that spur a significant return to travel, particularly business travel,” Bastian said.

“As difficult as 2020 was, in many ways I expect the next 12 months to be even more challenging. Just as we’ve never experienced a global pandemic in our history, we’ve also never had to create and execute a plan for recovery from one,” he told employees.

Bastian said the carrier would “continue to focus on masks, regular testing, self-assessments for symptoms, social distancing and cleaning to help stop the spread and save lives.”

Last month, the airline launched COVID-tested flights on selected transatlantic routes with partners including Alitalia and KLM, and has already committed to continue blocking middle seats until at least March this year.

“While we have high hopes that vaccinations will tame the virus this year, we also know that the next few months may be the most difficult yet.”

On the plus side, Bastian said Delta expects to achieve positive cash flow by spring. However, he cautioned, “Simply re-creating the Delta from 2019 won’t be an option” in a post-pandemic world.

In light of the current uncertainty, said Bastian, the airline will not unveil its traditional Flight Plan but instead outlined several guiding principles, including:

• Protecting people above all through health and safety protocols.

• Harnessing innovation and agility to enable the carrier to adapt.

• Listening to customers and acting on their feedback.

• Living up to company values regarding environmentalism, racial justice and more.

He also reiterated Delta’s commitment to becoming a carbon-neutral airline.

“We will be building a new Delta centered on a medical and economic recovery that hasn’t yet taken shape. While our long history has taught us much, our success will depend on our collaboration, our willingness to be open to new ideas, our ability to adapt and our humility in recognizing that we won’t always know the answers.”

In conclusion Bastian told Delta’s employees, “No airline is better positioned than Delta to emerge stronger from this crisis.”