executive impact

Delta Air Lines

36 Comments
By Chris Betros

Delta Air Lines' presence in Japan increased significantly after the airline acquired Northwest Airlines in late 2008. Since then, Delta has made a major investment in its products and services and “keeps climbing,” as its ad campaign says.

Jeff Bernier oversees sales and affairs for the airline in the Asia Pacific region. Born in Minnesota, Bernier got a degree in economics from university. He joined Northwest Airlines as an intern in 1994 and was assigned to Japan in January of 1997. It was supposed to be a 6-month assignment, he recalls.

Japan Today editor Chris Betros visits Bernier at the Delta offices in Toranomon to hear more.

How would you describe Delta’s image in Japan?

We are a premium brand airline. Our image and brand are very positive. However, I believe there is significant opportunity to spread the word. Our brand is improving and a lot of that is coming from our $2 billion investment in our product and services, airport facilities, technology and our people. Our customers are telling us we are going in the positive direction and Fortune magazine had us as the most admired airline in the world. Plus, we have won numerous other awards in the past year. That tells us we are on the right path.

How do you market the airline in Japan?

We primarily focus on outdoor billboards, newspapers, joint tie-ups and online media as well for advertising. Social media is a new marketing paradigm and it is growing. Additionally, we utilize sponsorship opportunities, including Japanese professional golfer Hiroyuki Fujita and MLB Japan to promote Delta’s awareness. In the U.S., we have several Delta accounts on Twitter and Facebook to disseminate information and communicate with customers.

How did the March 11 disaster affect business?

We did see a downturn in traffic but we never left Narita. We made sure that our employees, their families and our customers were safe and that they got in and out of Japan, if they so wish. We were basically back up to full operation within 48 hours.

We did suspend the Haneda-Detroit service, which will resume to daily service on April 27. Other than that, we were able to quickly recover. A large part of the reason was because we have restructured our company to be able to quickly react to situations that are outside our control. Part of that relates to adjusting capacity and having capacity discipline.

How many flights in and out of Japan does Delta currently operate?

We have currently 296 flights per week from four cities in Japan. We fly to nine gateways in the U.S. out of Narita, and operate two flights to the U.S. out of Haneda, plus one out of Nagoya and one out of Kansai. We also operate Guam, Saipan, Honolulu, Palau and 8 Asia cities out of Narita. Out of Kansai, we operate flights to Guam, Honolulu. From Fukuoka, we fly to Honolulu, From Nagoya, we fly to Honolulu, Guam and Manila. We are the largest carrier to Japan from the U.S.

Our load factors roughly run 80-85%, which is pretty good.

Have the Haneda flights been popular?

Business travellers have given us very positive feedback about the times at Haneda. Our LA flight leaves just after midnight, which is convenient if you want to get in a full day’s work at either end.

What would you say are Delta’s strong points?

First, our robust network combined with our Sky Team partners. Next, we have a premium product. We have invested a lot in it – flat bed seats, Economy Comfort, new international terminals in Atlanta and New York, as well as refurbished Sky Club lounges. A third strong point is our Sky Miles loyalty program. And our 4th asset and most important is our people. We have a great Delta culture.

Are there any unique characteristics in the Japanese travel industry?

International ticketing in Japan is dominated by the indirect channels -- travel agencies. There is still a significant amount of group and package travel. We have a very strong relationship with the travel agencies and they play an important role in the distribution of tickets.

What about online sales?

They are continuing to grow. In Japan, it is still small, maybe 5-10% of total reservations. In the U.S., that figure would probably be over 50%.

Is there a demand for first class?

We don’t have first class on international flights, but we do have a first-class product and service in our Business Elite, which offers a fully flat bed with aisle access for all seats, 5 selections of dinner course, Master Sommelier's wine selection, etc. Domestically in the U.S., Delta offers more first class seats than any other airline.

Why don’t you include the fuel surcharge in the advertised fare?

Delta continues to differentiate the fuel surcharge from the ticket price because we think it is very important to cover the cost of the increase in fuel. Consumers, while they may not like it, actually understand it. When you put the fuel surcharge in the advertised fare, they’ll say ticket prices are too high.

How will low cost carriers (LCCs) affect the industry in Japan?

It will bring in more competition and competition is good. LCCs will make the short-haul market more competitive. Certainly, Delta, as a global premier airline, is not afraid of competition because we have a very competitive cost model and offer the best value proposition.

However, I think the LCCs may have a tough time in Japan because there is no such thing as a low cost airport here. Until the government revamps the overall structure of airports, being fair to all carriers, LCCs will struggle. They also don’t offer the overall comprehensive package such as connections and networks overseas, best-in-class service and mileage programs.

What are some issues that foreign airlines still have to deal with in Japan?

Landing fees, which are among the highest in the world. Add to that parking fees, fuel facility charges, user and rental lounge fees. Access and infrastructure to, from and between Narita, Haneda and Tokyo can be quite challenging at times. However, Delta is doing its part by working with key constituents and advocating for improved policies. I am vice president on the board for the American Chamber of Commerce (ACCJ) and we advocate for numerous tourism initiatives that would benefit the general travelling public.

What is your management style?

I’m very flexible on what needs my support. If something is up and running, then I delegate. Where we have to take things to the next level or we are having challenges, then I am very hands on so that I can understand the challenges and help the team resolve them. I try to get out and meet our customers as much as possible. If we take care of our customers, they will take care of us.

Is Delta a popular airline for job seekers in Japan?

We do get a lot of applications, thousands actually, from people who want to work for Delta globally. So that is very gratifying. Right now, we have about 1,200 employees in Japan.

How does Delta get feedback from customers?

We have a customer care center and we conduct surveys to see how we are performing. We always want to know what we did well and what we could do better.

What corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities is Delta involved in?

We partake in activities such as promoting breast cancer awareness, Habitat for Humanity and Run for the Cure. After the March 11 disaster, Delta donated $1 million in cash and in-kind support to disaster relief efforts in Japan through the Japanese Red Cross Society and our SkyWish partners. I personally support Hands-On Tokyo and I am a board member of TELL (Tokyo English Life Line). There are several other organizations and activities that our Delta employees support on a regular basis. It is important to be a part of the community.

What is a typical day for you?

I wake up at 5 and get on my Blackberry and computer. Two or three days a week, I will work out at the gym from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. If I am not traveling, I get to the office at around 9 a.m. There will be conference calls, staff meetings or I go out and meet customers. I often have events at night and other community activities.

How do you spend your leisure time?

I play in a basketball club and I coach a Japanese youth baseball team. This winter I took my family skiing in Fukushima to Grand Echo. It was so gratifying when the locals told me that they appreciate the donation of goods but what they really want is for people to go and spend time there. That was truly heartwarming.

© Japan Today

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36 Comments
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Flying with Delta can be grueling especially if you are flying in their old 744's (Boeing 747-400). Economy seats HAVE NOT been upgraded (yet, though probably next year) , so you get no electric outlet at your seat, no personal screen, just the old fashion overhead projector showing boring movies you don't want to watch. Foods is bad, essentially they acquired Northworst Airlines in 2008 which made service even worse.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

@badge213 - with you there! The 747 experience (admittedly ex-NW) was pretty dire. In flight entertainment consisted of a seat back table that wouldn't stay up, and seat back cloth that kept peeling off! Kept me busy the whole 9 hours! That was running through my mind when he said "We are a premium brand airline" which is not my perception, not yet anyway (they ARE investing a lot, so might be better 2-3 years from now).

Conversely, the service was actually quite good, especially compared to NorthWorst and Untied. So some hope? I was also impressed by the amount of CSR he is persoanlly involved in - that is good news.

But, and I hope he reads this, the one thing completely off pace is....

Delta continues to differentiate the fuel surcharge from the ticket price because we think it is very important to cover the cost of the increase in fuel. Consumers, while they may not like it, actually understand it. When you put the fuel surcharge in the advertised fare, they’ll say ticket prices are too high.

I really don't care about the price of the ticket, I care about how much it costs to get from A to B. I don't have an option of NOT paying the fuel surchage so I want it included in the advertised price. I think some countries (including Japan) are quite anal about route pricing and you have to register them in advance which is why the portion that can change frequently (fuel costs) is split off. Besides all that though, I would have loved to hear any cost reductions are also passed on to the consumers! Oil prices are very volatile.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@Badge213 I agree with you. These days it's all about creature comforts and that goes for Economy too. It's sad when your own personal devices outperform those on the aircraft. You really have to be an expert to find information about the aircraft they use on certain routes. Travel agents here don't tell you that information.

Even having a USB port in Economy makes a HUGE difference. You can charge your Apple devices, perhaps use their screen for your movie. That's the single most important thing IMO, "Power".

Aircraft information and in-flight entertainment should be available on the company website prior to the flight. If you don't have a movie I want to see I can just download it to my iPad perhaps. I know my iPad has more games than your Delta In-Flight system.

So, in summary, all I need is some power and legroom with a decent meal.

Oh and let us play "Words With Friends" so you beat your competition, hahaha

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

There's a reason why he doesnt elaborate on "strengths" of the Skymiles program. There arent any.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

"...and Fortune magazine had us as the most admired airline in the world..."

I am reading the article in Fortune Magazine and it says United is the most admired airline in the world. Delta is #4.

http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/most-admired/2012/industries/2.html

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Delta continues to differentiate the fuel surcharge from the ticket price because we think it is very important to cover the cost of the increase in fuel. Consumers, while they may not like it, actually understand it. When you put the fuel surcharge in the advertised fare, they’ll say ticket prices are too high

Yeah sure! And if airlines/agents don't initially include the fuel surcharge, you'll be in for a mighty shock at the end. As Gyouza says, unless I can opt out of paying the fuel surcharge (something which nobody can nowadays even if you use air miles), just showing the basic fare is of no use. This is all a business tactic to lure potential customers. Having said that, I've noticed that on the search engine of HIS, they give the full fare first, so you can actually see which will be the cheapest full fare for a particular journey.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Delta was the most admired airline for 2011.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

DELTA is the worst airline ever!!!!!! I will never ever travel on Delta Airlines!!!!!!!!! Taste bad food, terrible flight attendants, ridiculous high airfare prices, uncomfortble seats

I can go on and on!!!!!!!! I flew on Delta more than once and the service was getting worse and worse!

SIGNAPORE..........YOU`RE THE BOSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

4 ( +6 / -2 )

When I buy a ticket I want to know the amount I have to pay, not some meaningless number. I see ads in the paper "Tokyo-LA Y39000", then in small text underneath it says "Total fare with fees/surcharges Y100000".

I know that one reason they do this is to devalue the air miles. If you try and book a "free" flight you still have to pay Y50000+ in surcharges. That's one good thing about United: they include the surcharge in the fare so you only need to pay the taxes when you use your miles.

Incidentally, if you have ANA miles it's often better to change them into an e-voucher and pay for your flights that way, rather than using the miles to get a "free" flight. The e-voucher is treated as cash, so you can book any flight (and earn miles on it). If you try to book a "free" flight with the miles the availability is extremely limited and you get hammered with the made-up fuel surcharge. Until the end of March you can get a Y18000 e-voucher for 10000 ANA miles. From April it goes down to Y15000. The rascals.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Delta continues to differentiate the fuel surcharge from the ticket price because we think it is very important to cover the cost of the increase in fuel.

Logic fail.

On another topic, Delta's food was decent. Losing my luggage on two out of three flights on them was not as decent. I have never had my luggage lost by JAL or ANA. If Delta is going for LLC service, I may as well fly LLC airlines.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Delta sucks PERIOD. Small seats, flight attendants with bad attitudes, food is awful, service sucks!

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I have flown Delta for three of my last four international flights and I'm satisfied.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Really don't know why anybody is complaining - There is a reason that Deltas prices are 50%-75% of other airlines, you get what you pay for. @netninja, You do not need to be an expert to find out what the facilities will be on your plane. There are plenty of sites, SeatGuru and SeatExpert that will tell you what aircraft will be on your route and tell you whats offered int he way of seat pitch, in seat power etc. Not really the travel agents responsibility to tell you anyway, not on the abolutely toilet margins they have to operate on these days.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

theResidentMAR. 05, 2012 - 12:57PM JST Really don't know why anybody is complaining - There is a reason that Deltas prices are 50%-75% of other airlines, you get what you pay for. @netninja, You do not need to be an expert to find out what the facilities will be on your plane. There are plenty of sites, SeatGuru and SeatExpert that will tell you what aircraft will be on your route and tell you whats offered int he way of seat pitch, in seat power etc. Not really the travel agents responsibility to tell you anyway, not on the abolutely toilet margins they have to operate on these days.

I kinda agree with you. I too appreciate lower fares, but at some point you have to wonder if these lower fares are worth the loss of quality they bring.

It is expensive to operate an airline. Qualified and experience personal don't come cheap. Safe and efficient equipment is not cheap. I sometimes wonder what airlines are cutting back on so that they can keep their fares low. Are any of these cost cutting measures resulting in less safety? Is the introduction of new and more efficient aircraft being delayed until the last drop of profit can be squeezed out of the existing one's in-service?

Personally, I think that in some cases fares are just too low. Flying is more expensive than taking the bus or the train because the costs involved are different. Sacrificing comfort and safety just to squeeze more people into a small space, hiring less experienced crew/staff because they are willing to work cheaper, reducing customer service to a passenger standing in front of a monitor at the ticket counter doing all the work themselves, etc., etc. just to maintain lower fares at unnaturally low levels make the over all flying experience less enjoyable and more anxious in my opinion.

Traveling by plane allows you to go fairly quickly from with place to another in a relatively short amount of time. This convenience should come at a cost which allows the companies providing this service should be able to make a "fair" profit. If you want to take advantage of this premium service then you should be willing to pay for it. If you cannot afford it then you should be willing to accept a lesser option or wait until a time when you can afford it. Not everyone is meant to fly; some people are meant to travel by other means if that's all they can afford.

Lots of people complain about the quality of service many airline companies are providing these days but they are just getting what they're paying for. If more passengers were willing to pay for better service then perhaps the service they are getting would improve. Cheaper does not always mean better and in most cases you usually just end up getting what you pay for.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Mediocre seats/equipment, poor food, very poor service, horrible attendants(both in personality and appearance), overall just BAD. USED to be Ok, in the 1980's.... ANY airline from Asia is by far better IMO.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

I order special meals and the best so far has been the Muslim meal. Kosher was soso...and then for a snack they gave me a ham sandwich. I guess they thought the pork was kosher. Veggie meal is ok. They did not have a meal for diabetics though so that was odd.

Try the special orders. You can do it on line but must be 24 hours in advance. You get served first that way too. I have never seen power or a usb port in economy :-( Sure would be nice. I have gone into the toilets to charge up though.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I usually fly Delta due to being located near one of their hubs (unless I can get a much better price elsewhere) and have never had any reason to complain. Either I get amazingly lucky on my flights or my standards are much less than the average JT reader. The flight attendants were always very helpful and professional.....and I needed the help flying with an infant & 1st grader.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Took a Delta Flight from Chubu to JFK via Narita in 2010, it landed in such an awful terminal in JFK on par with a Third World Airport, Food was mediocre, Delta's prices are way too high, they will not be able to sustain their business model.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Deltas prices too high? By far the cheapest to anywhere they, in any class that I have come across from Japan. Who do you intend on flying with in the future? I won't fly them, truly awful.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Honestly boring, textbook answers. Do the 296 flights per week include code-shared flights? Man I hate those! Like the JAL/AA-ones; talk about service-quality asymmetry!

I find that Delta flight attendants have attitude problems at times; but truth be told this goes for more US airlines. Their In-Flight Safety video is charming though http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgpzUo_kbFY#t=1m52s

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I find that Delta flight attendants have attitude problems at times; but truth be told this goes for more US airlines

I disagree -please watch - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvdCFYLf_JI&feature=youtube_gdata_player

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Delta i find is the cheapest ; and so i have extremely low expectation. Wouldnt use them for anything more than a 5/6 hour flight though. After that amount of time, service/comfort becomes more important.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Regarding flight attendants, The Asian carriers have the best by far.

http://www.ehow.com/list_7451068_requirements-airline-stewardess-korean-air.html?utm_source=outbrain&utm_medium=test24

We need a waiver from EEOC for US carriers to be competitive. Not going to happen though. Damn!

Of the US carriers to Japan, I like Hawaiian Air's service the best (out of HNL).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Good article. Jeff is a nice guy and very good at his job.

I have flown Delta a couple of times recently (Beijing and Singapore) and was pleasantly surprised by the service, comfort and food. Much better than than Northworst, who I flew with regularly for 15 years. But agree that they have down graded Sky Miles, which was better with NWA.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Yes, great piece.

Jeff is a wonderful man and Delta is the finest airline in the world.

-6 ( +0 / -5 )

I kinda's miss NWA. Throughout the 90s, they flew me throughout Asia for my holidays and back home in summer for reasonable fares. About half my flights to SE Asia were free, thanks to their generous mileage program. Those were the days.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I don't miss NW inflight service, a bit on the surly side ... but the trips I, too, was able to take - for free. Must have done a dozen, all in business class - saw a lot of Southeast Asia. Afraid those rich days are truly a thing of the past now.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I hate to be negative, but I fly the Narita to Portland, Oregon flight once or twice a year and ever since Delta bought NWA they brought in a plane that formerly ran a Central or South American route as the inflight information is still in Spanish and not Japanese. ie. flight speed, temperature, etc. How many years ago was this? NWA had behind the seat personal entertainment systems for coach. Delta still has not upgraded. It's very difficult to keep a child entertained for 8 -11 hours. Also, Delta keeps raising the bar so I can't use my Sky miles. I have 82,000 miles and can still only use them one month before booking my flight. Who books an international flight 1 month before? The flight attendants are fantastic however. No complaints there.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Have flown Delta from Narita to Portland several times and found it to be fine. Have not had the Spanish language experience mentioned above. If you think that the airline needs to be keeping your kid entertained for 8-11 hours then it is you that has the problem. Bring a book from home or a DS for crying out loud.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

Delta needs to offer more opportunities for earning skymiles. It always helped me justify my customer loyalty with NWA for 15 years NGO - DTW. All Asian carriers are light years ahead regarding customer service and Inflight care of all passengers. I actually had a DELTA FA tell me last year that I'd have to wait until she finished her break before my family could have some water. OMG - I still can't believe her words to this day!??

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@hooktrunk - I've just booked a flight for the 3rd April, so me. Not on Delta though.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I can't believe that Delta thinks they have a "premium brand" image in Japan, (or anywhere in the world for that matter).

I'd take an Asian carrier (SQ, JL, NH, et. al.) any day over an US carrier for a trans-Pacific flight.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Delta used to have screen in front of the seats now Nothing at all,But the prices remain the same. The service remain the same The food remain the same In sum up Delta is worse than before

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I agree wholeheartedly with Kwaabish.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Delta's good online service should be matched with good actual service onboard. Service on DeltA really sucks. Cant believe they call themselves a premier brand airline. the seats were old and my drinks spilled since the seat tray was no longer steady. Worse, I thought that airlines without screens in front for long haul flights is a thing of the past. But was surprised that these no screen seats are still on Delta planes. After my recent experience on Delta, I should rate them as a budget carrier airline, except that there is free food on board.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Delta Airline Food to Tokyo, worst out of the all the flights that I took to tokyo, United, ANA, Air Canada.....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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