Delta Rethinks Discounts for ‘Divisive’ Groups After NRA FirestormBy
CEO tells employees that airline’s intent was to stay neutral
Georgia lawmakers punished carrier by removing tax benefit
Delta Air Lines Inc. sought to ease a political firestorm in its home state of Georgia over its decision to end a discount deal with the National Rifle Association, saying Friday it’s considering a break with all “divisive” organizations.
Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian announced the policy review a day after the state’s lawmakers, angry at Delta’s stance on the gun-rights group, punished the airline by removing a tax exemption on jet fuel from a fiscal bill. Delta discontinued the NRA’s special arrangement Feb. 24 in the wake of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.
“Our discounted travel benefit for NRA members could be seen as Delta implicitly endorsing the NRA. That is not the case,” Bastian said Friday in a memo to employees. “While Delta’s intent was to remain neutral, some elected officials in Georgia tied our decision to a pending jet-fuel tax exemption, threatening to eliminate it unless we reversed course. Our decision was not made for economic gain and our values are not for sale.”
The move capped a week in which Delta joined other U.S. companies in cutting business ties with the NRA after a shooting last month at a Florida high school, in which 17 people were killed. United Continental Holdings Inc. made a similar move, while companies including Symantec Corp., Hertz Global Holdings Inc., Avis Budget Group Inc. and MetLife Inc. also ended relationships with the gun-rights group.
Only 13 people used the NRA discount, which was for members attending the group’s annual meeting, a Delta spokesman said. He declined to provide a list of potentially divisive groups with access to discounted fares.
Bastian also said Delta was “proud and honored” to have its headquarters in Atlanta -- an apparent response to politicians in other states who this week invited the No. 2 U.S. airline to relocate.
While Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed the tax bill that excluded the jet-fuel break, he has vowed to find a “pathway” to introduce the exemption again. Bastian, in the letter to employees, called him “a great friend to Delta.”
The exemption had been expected to save airlines about $40 million, with Delta seeing the largest benefit as the state’s dominant carrier. That’s a small cost for the nation’s second-largest carrier, which paid $5.7 billion for jet fuel and related taxes last year and had revenue of more than $41 billion.
Delta controls 73 percent of the market at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, while Southwest Airlines Co. has 11 percent. No other carrier has more than 5 percent of the airport’s passengers, according to the U.S. Transportation Department.
Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, a Republican running for governor, helped lead the push to remove the benefit.