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COVID-19 RECOVERY PLAN FOR DELTA AIRLINES

Prepared for:
Ed Bastion
CEO Delta Airlines

Prepared by:
Bottom Line Consulting Firm

November 11, 2020

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

EXECUTIVE
SUMMARY……………………………………………………………………....3
INTRODUCTION: THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC AND THE AIRLINE INDUSTRY….....4
BACKGROUND: DELTA AIRLINES IN THE
PANDEMIC……..…………….……....……3
DISCUSSION: SURVEY, SURVEY RESULTS,
ANALYSIS…..……………………………..6
Survey……………………………………………………………………………………..6
Development……………………………….......……………………………....…6
Distribution………………………………………………….……………………6
Survey Results………………………………………………………………...………….6
Background Questions…………………………………………………………..6
Questions Regarding Safety………………………………………………...…...8
Questions Specific to Delta………………………………………………………9
Analysis………………………………………………………………………………….10
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS…………………………………………..….11
REFERENCES…………………………………………………………………………...……..12

LIST OF FIGURES
Figure
1 Survey Results: How often do you fly?……..……………………………………..........7
2 Survey Results: Primary purpose for flying?...…………………………..………....….7
3 Survey Results: Age of Respondents………………………………………………..…..8
4 Survey Results: Do you believe it is safe to fly?………….……………………...…......8
5 Survey Results: I am aware of changes made in the airline industry…………….......9
6 Survey Results: I am aware of changes made by Delta Airlines………………..…...10

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Delta Airlines can enhance customer satisfaction through increased communication and
transparency, reevaluation of customer priorities, and enhancement of employee attitudes. Our
survey and subsequent analysis show that the company can set itself apart from competitors if it
takes divisive steps to set itself apart from the rest of the airline industry. This study was
authorized by Ed Bastion, CEO of Delta Airlines, when Bottom Line Consulting sought approval
to conduct a survey of current and prospective customers and complete an analysis of the results
to identify improvements that would strengthen the company as a whole.

Our conclusion that Delta Airlines would benefit from enhancing customer satisfaction is based
on survey data collected by our consulting firm, and outside data obtained from resources cited
throughout this report.

Analysis of the data reveals an opportunity for improvement in three major areas:

● Communicate and be transparent with customers. Communication is a critical


component of any firm’s relationship with customers. The COVID-19 pandemic has
made communication and transparency even more important. Customers need to know
what actions the airline is taking to maintain a safe environment for air travel. A public
relations campaign through social media or another high traffic medium can close the gap
between business and consumer.
● Focus on customer priorities. Knowing what a customer is looking for is vital to
developing a healthy business plan. The pandemic has revealed some downfalls of other
airline companies, and therefore, potential customers are looking for safe, inexpensive,
and convenient travel options. Giving customers what they want will gravitate them to
using your business. This is an excellent opportunity to expand the customer base.
● Support employees. Employees are the biggest asset in the realm of customer
satisfaction. Customer satisfaction can be linked to their interactions with employees.
Delta needs to put the same effort into taking care of employees as they do with
customers. We suggest increasing health related benefits of employees.

Based on these findings, it is recommended that customer satisfaction and the drivers behind
customer satisfaction should be major considerations of Delta Airlines because it directly
influences the success of the company as a whole. The airline industry is generally very
competitive, but the persistence of the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt the industry as a whole.
Delta Airlines must take this opportunity to set itself apart from competitors by establishing
excellent customer service, enhancing workplace satisfaction and business prosperity.

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INTRODUCTION: THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC AND THE AIRLINE INDUSTRY

This study was designed to analyze the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the airline
industry in which Delta Airlines operates. Specifically, the study seeks to answer these
questions:

● Are consumers confident enough to fly during the COVID-19 pandemic?


● Do employees feel that they are adequately taken care of during and after the pandemic?
How will the pandemic affect future employment?
● How can Delta Airlines emerge from the pandemic with a strategy that will enhance the
company even after the pandemic’s effects have faded?

Our team, Bottom Line Consulting, has established ourselves as a premier consulting and
advisory firm. Our members have experience on a number of projects. Joey Lucas, our team
finance and accounting manager, runs the budget and financing for our projects. Mr. Lucas has a
bachelors’ and masters’ degree in accounting from the University of Pittsburgh. He has years of
experience working as an auditor for some of the world’s largest accounting firms. Performing
cash reconciliations, identifying fraud, and improving internal controls are some of Joey’s strong
suits. A second member of our team is Chris Brittain. Mr. Brittain graduated from Duquesne
University with a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in philosophy and classical civilizations
Mr. Brittain also graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelor of Science in
Business Administration with a major of marketing. After graduating from the University of
Pittsburgh, Mr. Brittain earned an MBA in strategic management with a specialization in applied
business analytics. He has extensive experience in market research. A third member of the team
is Katelyn Dudash, our vice president of operations. She received her MBA from the University
of Pittsburgh after earning her bachelor’s degree. Her specialization in Human Resource
Management will allow her to provide a unique perspective as we analyze the survey results and
construct recommendations. Our team believes that we have the assets to improve the business
environment of Delta Airlines greatly.

BACKGROUND: DELTA AIRLINES IN THE PANDEMIC

Ed Bastain, CEO of Delta Airlines, authorized this study of current and prospective customers
when approached by Bottom Line Consulting. Like many others in the airline industry, Delta
Airlines has experienced many difficulties in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the help
of this study, Delta Airlines will be able to devise a new strategy to thrive during the COVID-19
pandemic, and experience success even after the effects of the pandemic have passed.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted the airline industry in two distinct ways, the
first being the fear of contagion. On a plane, passengers are seated shoulder-to-shoulder, and
have little way of knowing if the person next to them has the virus. The second significant
impact is the economic downturn that has resulted from the pandemic. Consumers do not have
the money or motivation to fly. With many businesses and travel destinations shut down, work-
from-home initiatives, and unemployment rates rising, people are not buying plane tickets.

Financially, the pandemic has severely impacted Delta Airlines (NYSE: DAL). Second-quarter
results pulled from Delta’s investor relations page show a pre-tax loss of seven billion dollars,
much different from quarter-two 2019 pre-tax profit income of 1.9 billion dollars (Delta Airlines,
Financials). Quarter two operating income has dropped eleven billion dollars, which is an 88%
change compared to the previous year. Compared to other big airline companies such as United
Airlines, American Airlines, and JetBlue, there is a trend of loss of revenue among all
companies. United Airlines saw an 87% decrease in operating income, and JetBlue saw a 55%
decrease in operating income. Delta must find a way to make up for their losses to survive the
pandemic, but could also benefit from making changes now that will set them apart from the
competition even after the effects of the pandemic wear off.

For those not aware of how the pandemic affects air travel, the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) has laid out guidelines. These guidelines can be found on their website.
However, it is important to note that they specifically state that due to the nature of air
circulation on a flight, most viruses and germs do not spread as quickly, which may make it safer
than other forms of public transportation (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Travel
During COVID-19). Similar studies are investigated further in the Secondary Research section of
this report.

Our team has noted that Delta has already taken a number of different measures related to the
current COVID-19 pandemic. They have allowed customers to change/reschedule their flights
without having to pay fees or penalties. Customers can get refunds for canceled flights in the
form of eCredits or cash. The process of receiving cash back involves filling out additional forms
and waiting up to thirty days. (Delta, Travel Update Center). In airports and during flights, Delta
requires that its customers and employees wear masks at all times and practice social distancing.
Hand sanitizing stations and plexiglass barriers have been placed in airports and on planes. Air
filters within Delta planes were changed and upgraded to enhance the cabin air quality.
Electrostatic spraying has been implemented to disinfect planes before and after flights. Delta
has also partnered with CVS Health, Mayo Clinic, and Quest Diagnostics to have widespread
COVID-19 testing available for employees (Bastion, Delta CEO Message).

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DISCUSSION: SURVEY, SURVEY RESULTS, ANALYSIS

Survey

We designed a twelve question survey that was administered to airline customers through an
online survey platform. The survey’s primary purpose was to gauge customer’s flying habits,
their knowledge of changes made within the airline industry due to the pandemic, and their
opinions on flying during and after the pandemic.

Development

The survey was developed through the Qualtrics survey platform, where questions were
formatted in a variety of ways. Many were single response multiple-choice questions or
dichotomous questions (ex. true or false), followed by an open-ended response box to share more
information on their response. Some questions were formatted to be scaled responses, ordinal
ranking order, or percentage divisions. At the end of the survey, our team included a
demographic question to understand our respondent’s age. Examples of items included in the
survey are:
● Do you believe it is currently safe to fly?
● How often do you fly?
● Which airline company do you tend to use the most?
● Most important aspects when choosing an airline company?
● How concerned are you about contracting COVID-19 while on a flight?

Distribution

The survey was distributed to potential respondents through a link that directed them to the
Qualtrics survey page. After two days, 110 respondents submitted their survey. By analyzing the
results of the survey, our team can draw conclusions to make recommendations to Delta Airlines.

Survey Results

Background Questions

A few days after the survey was administered, we received 110 responses from airline customers.
The figures below show how often respondents fly and the primary reason for their air travel.

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Figure 1

Figure 2

The top three airline companies used by respondents are Southwest Airlines(1), American
Airlines(2), and Delta Airlines(3). Fifty-nine percent of respondents fly once a year or less, and
another thirty-four percent fly only a few times per year. When asked about their primary
purpose for flying, most respondents fly for leisure/vacations, or for business.

The final question on the survey was a demographic question regarding the age of those taking
the survey. Results showed that 24.7% of respondents were between age 40-50, 22% were
between age 18-24, 21.1% were age 50 or older, 17.4% were between 30-40, 14.7% were
between 25-30, and zero respondents were under age 18.

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Figure 3

Questions Regarding Safety

When it came to questions regarding whether or not flying is safe, the following results were
found:

Figure 4

Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they did not feel that it is currently safe to fly during the
pandemic while the remaining forty-two percent believe it is currently safe to fly. Additionally,
when asked to rate the safety of flying during the pandemic, respondents gave an average of 2.39
out of five, with five being safe. Those who believe that it is not currently safe to fly were asked
to write in when they think it would be safe again. The overwhelming majority of responses said
that it will be safe when a vaccine is available.

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Respondents were asked to rank different safety measures that they would like to see performed
for flights. From most important to least important, the results were:
1. Wearing masks
2. Social distancing
3. Screening for COVID-19 before the flight
4. Temperature screening before the flight
5. Seeing proper sanitation performed during the flight
6. Receiving a personal sanitation package
7. COVID-19 immunity certification
8. Having hand sanitizer sanitation available

Questions Specific to Delta

Looking at the survey data regarding awareness of changes made in the airline industry, we find
the following results:

Figure 5

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Figure 6

A comparison of these two graphs shows that respondents were generally aware of recent
changes in the airline industry but were less aware of changes made by Delta Airlines
specifically.

The results of these survey questions allow for a more in-depth analysis of customers’ perception
of Delta Airlines and the airline industry as a whole in the context of the pandemic.

Analysis

Our survey finds that Delta Airlines was the third most popular airline among respondents
behind Southwest Airlines and American Airlines. Being in the top three shows that Delta
Airlines is an industry leader, meaning that they can influence the entire industry. With this in
mind, it is clear that Delta’s reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic can send a message that
represents the whole airline industry. However, as we look at the survey data regarding
awareness of changes made in the airline industry, we find that many of the survey respondents
cited understanding of the current changes made in the airline industry due to the pandemic.
However, there was no consensus on understanding the changes that Delta has specifically made.
An analysis of this particular set of data would suggest that Delta Airlines could improve
customer relations so that customers are more aware of the measures being taken to ensure safe
conditions. Being transparent regarding changes and communicating directly to the public during
this time is critical.

The data obtained from the survey also shows that the majority of our respondents do not feel
that it is safe to fly during the pandemic. Many people are concerned with contracting COVID-
19 on the flight, and while the main reason for this is the absence of a vaccine, a vaccine is not a
factor that Delta can control. Therefore, Delta Airlines should focus on doing everything else to

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promote safety. This goes hand in hand with communicating directly to the public. The next
question is, what safety measures do customers want to see? When asked to rank specific
practices and policies that would create a safer atmosphere, respondents consistently chose
mandatory masks, social distancing measures, COVID-19 screening, and temperature checks as
their top choices. As those were found out to be the most important things that customers are for,
making sure the public knows that Delta is doing those things is paramount.

In another survey question regarding factors outside of the COVID-19 pandemic, respondents
were asked to choose which factors are most important to them when selecting an airline
company: price, in-flight entertainment, convenience, or loyalty programs. This particular
question has allowed for a few recommendations. With price being the most overwhelming
important factor that customers consider when looking to fly, it is recommended that Delta
should focus on competitive pricing. Setting a price that is attractive to customers can increase
their number of sales. With the convenience of booking being the second most crucial factor,
Delta needs to make its booking process easy and efficient. During the COVID-19 pandemic,
change is rapid, and the future is uncertain. Customers might be looking for an airline that allows
quick and easy refunds because of sudden COVID-19 diagnoses or plans that get canceled. Delta
has done well to make flights more flexible; however, it should do more to make it easier and
more efficient for consumers to get refunds if necessary. Making the process simpler will make
the booking process less of a deterrent and will increase consumer trust in your brand. Many of
the survey respondents cited being aware of the airline industry’s current changes due to the
pandemic. However, there was no consensus on understanding the changes that Delta has
specifically made.

Secondary Research

Secondary research was completed in order to evaluate the potential health risks that COVID-19
poses to passengers and employees. Additionally, secondary research was conducted to suggest
possible improvements to some of Delta’s benefits.

Harvard’s School of Public Health conducted a study to analyze the potential impact of 4
possible solutions done simultaneously. The four suggested solutions include mask usage,
barriers on the plane, increased ventilation, and decontamination procedures done during the
flight. When all four strategies were used in tandem, there were zero potential cases of COVID-
19 transmission during a flight. This data set’s sample size is more than 2000 (although a hard
number was not included in the study) (Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health).

Similarly, a study produced by United Airlines and the Department of Defense found that HEPA
(High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters significantly reduced one’s risk of catching COVID-19.
The study was done over six months, with more than 300 people tested. They found that the risk

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of in-flight transmission was .0003% even with a full cabin (“Department Of Defense Finds Low
Risk Of COVID-19 Transmission On Commercial Flights.”).

Additional research was conducted regarding the impact of employee attitude on customer
service. A particular study of the airline industry examines this and also brings in the factor of
price. In our survey results, we found that price was the top priority of respondents as they chose
which airline they would want to use to fly. This study ultimately discovers that a positive
employee attitude is more important in a full-service airline than a low-cost airline (Suhartanto
7). This finding does make sense because when customers acknowledge that price is also often
an indicator of service quality (Suhartanto 3). Therefore, if the airline dedicates itself to
providing excellent service, customers will be willing to pay a little extra. This can serve to set
Delta Airlines apart from competitors. While they may not be the cheapest airline, they can offer
a quality experience that makes them the choice of customers searching for the best value.

To enhance the experience of customers, Delta Airlines must first look to its employees. Amid
the COVID-19 pandemic, the work environment of airline employees has changed drastically.
As stated before, the industry itself has experienced a massive decline in the past few months,
putting many employees out of work. Additionally, those who continue to work are put at risk
with every flight that they work. Obviously, these employees could benefit from the many, if not,
the safety measures that survey respondents had expressed a desire for. However, employees
could be further supported by company measures. Offering support for employees during the
pandemic will help retain employees, have a lasting impact on employee behavior, and generate
a positive public image.

Delta urged employees to volunteer for unpaid leave while also applying for unemployment
(Yamanouchi). Similarly, they have bought out employees and let others take early retirement
(Josephs). However, these actions do not serve the company's image well. As such, several other
companies offer more comprehensive benefits that Delta could look to imitate.

UPMC is a regional healthcare provider in Western Pennsylvania. They have offered employees
who test positive for COVID-19 3 days of paid time off. While the risk of contracting COVID-
19 in flight is minimal, there are still many other situations in which your employees may be
exposed (Pilots ordering takeout, lodging, and others.) We feel this is something small that Delta
could offer to provide employees with a greater sense of satisfaction

Many companies are also doing more to boost the benefits geared towards their employees'
mental health. The COVID-19 pandemic has created financial challenges for both employers and
employees. Improving benefits in this area could help reduce the stress levels within your
workforce. For example, Starbucks has increased the number of sessions one can visit a

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therapist. Other common examples include reducing copays, increasing access to wellness
coaches, and increasing access to online tools and apps geared toward mental health (Ward).

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Analysis of our survey data and secondary research leads us to the following recommendations
for Delta Airlines:
● Communicate with your consumers. Less than 50% of customers believe that it is
currently safe to fly. We strongly suggest that you run a public relations campaign. You
should reference the studies produced by the department of defense and Harvard
University as these are credible institutions and will increase consumers' trust in the flight
process. You should spread the studies on social media and reference them in television
advertisements. Similarly, customers are aware of changes made within the airline
industry in general but less aware of specific changes that Delta Airlines has
enacted.Delta Airlines should communicate with customers clearly to create a greater
awareness of current practices and policies.
● Focus on meeting the needs of your consumers. Price and convenience were the two most
important factors when consumers were choosing an airline. Compete on price to attract
more consumers. You could also contact hotels or other travel related products/services
to bundle products together and increase your sales. Moreover, adapt your policies to
make them more consumer friendly.
● Support your employees. Employee attitudes are a driving factor for customer
satisfaction. For an airline company, employees directly deal with customers in the
airport, online, and on the flight. If employees are not happy or in the correct mindset,
their interactions with customers will be poor. We suggest that you increase health
benefits for employees.

Based on these findings, we recommend that Delta Airlines stay up to date on the latest
recommendations from the CDC, continue to implement practices and policies consistent with
pandemic safety measures, and show a dedication to maintaining clear communication with
employees and customers. The survey results have shown that current and prospective customers
need to be informed of safety measures that are being put into place at Delta Airlines.
Specifically, customers would like to see mandatory masks, social distancing measures, COVID-
19 screening, and temperature checks so that they can feel safer.

These recommendations are not only applicable to the current situation with the COVID-19
pandemic. Communication with customers is key in any situation. Additionally, the survey
addressed customer preference for choosing airlines. With this information, Delta Airlines can

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commit to keeping low ticket prices, communicating updated policies and procedures, and
improving customer satisfaction.

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Works Cited

Bastion, Ed. “Delta CEO Message.” Delta News Hub. 25 September 2020.
https://news.delta.com/delta-ceo-message-prioritizing-your-safety-and-preparing-
future. Accessed 5 Nov 2020.

Delta Airlines. “Financials.” Delta Air Lines, Inc. - Financials, 2020,


ir.delta.com/financials/default.aspx. Accessed 5 Nov 2020.

“Department Of Defense Finds Low Risk Of COVID-19 Transmission On Commercial


Flights.” Plane & Pilot Magazine, 20 Oct. 2020,
www.planeandpilotmag.com/news/the-latest/2020/10/20/department-of-defense-
finds-low-risk-of-covid-19-transmission-on-commercial-flights/. Accessed 7 Nov
2020.

Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, 2020, pp. 1–187, Assessment of Risks of
SARS-CoV-2 Transmission During Air Travel and Non-Pharmaceutical
Interventions to Reduce Risk . Accessed 5 Nov 2020.

Josephs, Leslie. “Delta Offers Employees Buyouts, Retirement as Coronavirus Hurts


Travel Demand, While United Readies Similar Plans.” CNBC, CNBC, 29 May
2020, www.cnbc.com/2020/05/28/delta-offers-employees-buyouts-early-
retirement-amid-weak-travel-demand.html. Accessed 7 Nov 2020.

Subramanian, Samanth. “Inside the Airline Industry's Meltdown.” The Guardian, Guardian
News and Media, 29 Sept. 2020, www.theguardian.com/world/2020/sep/29/inside-
the-airline-industry-meltdown-coronavirus-pandemic. Accessed 7 Nov 2020.

Suhartanto, Dwi & Noor, Any.‘Customer Satisfaction In The Airline Industry: The Role Of
Service Quality And Price’. Asia Tourism Forum Conference. Research Gate. May
2012. pp 2-7.
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/283725801_CUSTOMER_SATISFACTI
ON_IN_THE_AIRLINE_INDUSTRY_THE_ROLE_OF_SERVICE_QUALITY_
AND_PRICE. Accessed 9 Nov 2020.

“Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 Oct. 2020,
www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/travel-during-covid19.html.
Accessed 5 Nov 2020.

Ward, Marguerite. “12 Companies Boosting Benefits so Employees Don't Feel Isolated or
Lonely during the Coronavirus Crisis.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 10 Sept.

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2020, www.businessinsider.com/companies-offering-more-mental-health-benefits-
amid-coronavirus-2020-4. Accessed 4 Nov 2020.

Yamanouchi, Kelly. “Delta Seeks Bailout to Pay Workers - and Also Applies for
Unemployment.” The Salt Lake Tribune, The Salt Lake Tribune, 14 Apr. 2020,
www.sltrib.com/news/nation-world/2020/04/14/delta-seeks-bailout-pay/. Accessed
7 Nov 2020.

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