Customer outreach will decide Delta's direction

Like a celebrity fresh from rehab, Delta Air Lines has a second chance to win over the public after emerging from bankruptcy last week.

Like a celebrity fresh from rehab, Delta Air Lines has a second chance to win over the public after emerging from bankruptcy last week.

Certainly, economic instability is nothing new to the airline industry, but no aviation company labored so long under such public scrutiny as Delta had during its 19-month period in Chapter 11 protection.

Delta emerges at a time when US and European officials have agreed upon the Open Skies initiative, which enables more airlines to operate routes between European and US cities. Delta told Air Transport World of its subsequent plans to launch service to 13 new international destinations in the next two months.

Kernels of Delta's new direction can be found on Change.Delta.com, and an upcoming ad campaign that will take a humble approach to wooing customers. Delta hired integrated marketing firm SS&K to run a politics-style ad campaign straight out of the gate.

While Delta understandably wants to announce its re-emergence with a splash, any marketing will go for naught if it doesn't back up the new Delta with a strong communications and customer service operation.

Thanks to the advent of advanced, intelligent Web sites that provide up-to-the-second airline prices, air travel has become the commodity industry. Despite marketing brio, there are, at best, minor differences between the experiences of flying the major carriers.

As a result, airlines don't appear to win many new customers through marketing as much as they retain old ones through enjoyable, stress-free flights (and those whose loyalty programs are still worth something).

So, airlines should advertise, by all means. But critical outreach comes when staff treat customers kindly during delays and automated systems alert travelers to complications when it matters, not after Grey's Anatomy.

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