Delta to India: Anatomy of a Masterful Press Release

I generally expect airline press releases to bend the truth. I know that releases will gloss over the negatives and focus on the positives; that’s what companies do. I also know that they will find some tortured way to spin any change into being good for the consumer even if the benefits are questionable at best. Writing these releases should be considered an art.

There’s a way to say questionable things without lying, and the closer you get to that point, the more successful it seems the release can be considered. With that background, I offer my congratulations to Delta for its announcement that it will return to the Indian market. The person who wrote it deserves a gold medal for twisting and turning those words in such a way that it not only promotes new service but it slams rivals and curries political favor. Mission accomplished.

Delta used to fly to India long ago. Its most recent foray was via Amsterdam on its own metal, but that went away. Delta has blamed the rise of Qatar, Emirates, and Etihad for the death of that service. This, in fact, was a key point in the airline’s crusade to bring those airlines down and have the US government take action.

The disagreement has been settled, though it seems to me the US carriers received little to nothing of value. You can argue that point if you want, but there certainly are no additional restrictions on service. (The only contested issue, fifth-freedom flights, are in no way restricted, but that wouldn’t have had an impact on US to India service anyway.) Yet, Delta has tied these things together quite skillfully. The release starts…

Delta Air Lines will begin nonstop flights between the United States and Mumbai, India, next year, linking the U.S. with one of its strongest trading partners.

Here, Delta is just building up the importance of this new service from a US perspective. India is such a strong trading partner that nonstop service is hugely important, or so it says. Of course, if this was that important, Delta could have started, or not stopped, this previously (as United and Air India have both done). Sure, there are other reasons why this makes more sense now. The new A350, for example, should be more efficient than the 777 that would have had to fly it before. But that’s beside the point. Plus, we don’t even know if Delta will even use the A350 since none of that detail is given. All we know is…

The announcement follows agreements between the U.S. and the governments of the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to address the issue of government subsidies provided to state-owned carriers in those nations. The framework created by the agreement allows Delta to move forward with service to India, a market long impacted by government-subsidized Middle Eastern airlines.

Just sit back and enjoy how carefully that was crafted. Does it say that the flight is being reinstated because of the agreement that was reached between the US and UAE/Qatar? No, it doesn’t. It just notes that this announcement followed that agreement, so you just naturally correlate the two. That’s smart because there’s no way that the agreement between the countries should have had any impact whatsoever on the commercial viability of a Delta route to India. At all. But this way, Delta can technically make you think the two are connected even though it never actually says that.

This move will mark a return to India for Delta, which was forced to exit the market after subsidized state-owned airlines made service economically unviable.

This is probably as close to a lie as Delta tells in this release. Was it solely the Middle East carrier service that made a Delta route to India “unviable”? Heck, we don’t know. It could have been viable in the first place, but Delta used its cancellation as a political tool. Or maybe it wasn’t viable, but the market is completely different now anyway so that’s not relevant to today. Delta can make that excuse without having to prove it, and it just further makes the reader believe that starting India service is impossible without this recent UAE/Qatar agreement. But Delta never actually says it.

“It is exciting to be able to announce Delta’s return to India from the U.S. as part of our vision to expand Delta’s reach internationally,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian. “We are thankful to the president for taking real action to enforce our Open Skies trade deals, which made this new service possible. We are looking forward to providing customers in the U.S. and India with Delta’s famously reliable, customer-focused service operated by the best employees in the industry.”

Ah, and there it is. The obligatory ass-kissing quote thanking the president. We all know the White House loves this kind of stroking, so it’s a shrewd political play.

The service is subject to government approval; full schedule details will be announced later this year.

Note that Delta isn’t announcing any details yet except that this will be a nonstop between somewhere in the US and Mumbai. We can speculate on which city in the US will get it (I’m told Ed let employees know it would unsurprisingly be from the East Coast), what airplane will be used, and what kind of frequency we’re looking at, but that’s all irrelevant. This press release is meant to play to President Trump’s ego. The details don’t matter. Presumably we actually will see a flight to India next year sometime, but I wouldn’t even call that a given.

Delta also intends to expand its existing codeshare relationship with partner Jet Airways to provide seamless connections to other destinations within India, subject to government approvals.

This is the real reason why this service makes sense now, regardless of the situation with Emirates/Etihad/Qatar. I talked about Delta’s empire-building last year, and Jet is certainly a part of that. Jet has ended its relationship with American as it has strengthened its Delta ties. Jet has already entered into an “Enhanced Cooperation Agreement” with Air France/KLM that dovetails nicely with the Delta/Air France/KLM relationship. This is clearly heading toward tighter integration. Since Jet is based in Mumbai and has its largest hub there, it’s no surprise to see Delta looking to fly into Mumbai and get fat and happy off all those Indian connections.

There are good, compelling reasons for Delta to fly from the US to India nonstop. The A350, the Jet partnership, and general growth in trade are three strong ones. But the signing of an agreement between the US and Qatar/UAE? That is not one. Yet this press release makes you think otherwise. Do you feel a little dirty reading it? That’s how you know it’s working.

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Tim Dunn
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CF, It should be very apparent that the US-India market is highly distorted by the fact that there is so little air service for two countries that are as large as the US and India are. There are just about as many flights between the US and Singapore as there are between the US and India despite the fact that the US and India are BOTH in the top 5 air travel markets in the world. The fact is that the US-India market does not function anywhere close to any other global market. Second, you and others have repeatedly tried… Read more »

henry LAX
Guest
henry LAX

hahahha 35% to 50% …. now THAT’S some fanboy koolaid right there

we’re talking about an airline that doesn’t even know how to fly JFK-NRT ….. you know …. that obscure airport pair anchored by $2.7 trillion of combined GDP and nearly 50 million in combined population …

Tim Dunn
Member
Tim Dunn

Henry, you do realize that the reason why Delta dropped JFK-NRT is because the Japanese government is in the SLOW process of opening up Haneda airport to long haul international flights as a replacement for Narita service. Delta simply decided it would not compete against Japanese carriers that can fly much closer JFK-HND while DL has to fly JFK-NRT. DL has the 2nd largest number of seats from the US to HND behind NH and has the highest average number of seats per flight of all airlines flying between the US and HND. DL can’t control the decisions of foreign… Read more »

henry LAX
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henry LAX

you’ve just parroted every line that came out from DL’s PR, completely proving that you’re either a blind fanboy or simply an employee

hahaa largest carrier to HND ? that’s an artificial way of DOT forcing some balancing of competition among the US3. no one will any straight face will claim MSP-HND has any more local O&D than things like DFW-HND or even IAH-HND, but thanks to DL’s incessant tantrum whining about how unfair the japanese are of not offering unfettered HND access to DL, someone had to give DL a pacifier in the form of authority-wasting MSP-HND.

henry LAX
Guest
henry LAX

and ps : DL’s entire presence of JFK-Asia currently is just JFK-TLV, but that’s really being liberal about what “asia” encompasses (DOT counts it as “Atlantic” but we’ll skip past that)

UA flies EWR – TLV DEL BOM NRT PEK PVG HKG …. DL flies JKF – TLV, and AA flies absolutely nothing with their own metal

henry LAX
Guest
henry LAX

” Based on the latest DOT data, DL carries more local US-Tokyo revenue (both airports) than any other US airline at a higher average fare. those are facts – not fanboyism ” you know what REAL fanboyism looks like ? your own statement above that pretends JVs don’t exist funny DL is the one busy trying to get everyone and their mother in JV bed, but in the place where they’ve failed to win any local partners (first failing to lure JAL over to Skyteam then failing to win at Skymark bankruptcy auction), then all of a sudden they want… Read more »

Tim Dunn
Member
Tim Dunn

Tell us what part of NH’s revenue that they don’t get to keep because they gave it to UA and then you might have a point. Joint ventures are indeed a great tool for expanding networks but you can’t count your partner’s revenue as your own and then call them a partner. The facts are that DL has retained its local market presence in Japan despite the advent of joint ventures and the movement of service from Narita and Haneda. You are indeed right that DL chose not to continue JFK-Tokyo if it can’t fly from Haneda along with its… Read more »

Hawk
Member
Hawk

Cranky Flier | Delta to India: Anatomy of a Masterful Press Release

I would question the premise that the agreement had nothing to do with it.
India is the top connection market for the Gulf carriers especially Emirates. This new flight will give Delta equal one connection service to all those Indian markets which will help them compete on an equal basis schedule wise. Service wise remains to be seen.

Gary Leff
Guest

@Hawk – but the agreement between the US and Qatar and between the US and UAE does nothing to limit non-stop service between the US and Mideast, so the federal government isn’t improving Delta’s competitive position for US-India flights.

Gary Leff
Guest

This even undermines the claims Delta made in its fight against Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar — precisely because they can announce non-stop India flying without any government controls on pricing or forced reductions in competitive flying. They said US jobs were at risk and they couldn’t fly these sorts of routes unless something drastic was done. Nothing drastic was done, yet they admit they believe the economics of a non-stop to Mumbai make sense. Which means they believe their previous claims were incorrect. Although it’s actually true that Delta couldn’t have announced this flight before the issue they’ve been fighting… Read more »

Tim Dunn
Member
Tim Dunn

Gary, all you and others who argue against the benefit of the US-Qatar-UAE agreement do is to keep the conversation going that DL is restarting service to India – which will likely be the first of a number of announcements from Delta about service to regions of the world that could be served via the Middle East from the US. How can you prove that you are right or that those who have a different perspective are wrong? You can’t and the inverse is true as well. By questioning Delta’s motives in restarting the route, all you do is further… Read more »

Jason H
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Jason H

tl;dr, but you can’t prove that you’re right either so I’m not quite sure why you’re so upset with other peoples’ comments.

Tim Dunn
Member
Tim Dunn

you are absolutely right which is precisely why I said nothing is accomplished by arguing about DL’s motivations other than to further highlight that DL is adding a major new route. There were lots of people that argued against DL in the NRA discussion which resulted in Georgia’s decision to not approve DL’s tax abatement. Not surprisingly, DL says they gained far more business as a result of the NRA decision than they lost from in the tax abatement decision. CF and others are completely right that DL likely had plenty of other reasons why they are returning to India.… Read more »

Gary Leff
Guest

@Jason H – huh? I can demonstrate that Delta’s position is inconsistent with their previous positions. They said that without limits placed on flights between the US and Mideast, and without limits on Gulf carrier pricing, they couldn’t fly between the US and India. They aren’t getting those limits. They’re going to fly to India. And they’re claiming it’s because of an agreement that didn’t give them the things they said they needed. How, exactly, do you defend Delta on this?

Tim Dunn
Member
Tim Dunn

Do you have a link for that quote, Gary?

Itami
Guest
Itami

Can the A350 reliably make it to BOM from the US? Going over the Arctic seems like it would be pushing it.

Gary Leff
Guest

Depends on from where and configuration (and thus weight) of the aircraft, ATL-BOM is about the same distance as SFO-SIN which SQ flies with an A350, JFK-BOM is 700 miles shorter.

Xnuiem
Member

I went and looked it up as I had the same question.

http://www.gcmap.com/mapui?P=ATL-BOM

That is within the range of the A350 and the 787. JFK, as Gary noted, is about 700 miles less.

So in theory, yes, the metal can make the flight.

USBusinessTraveller
Guest

United flies EWR-BOM (and DEL) on a 777-200ER.

A
Guest
A

Press releases may be mostly political theater but additional non-stop service from the US to BOM is a big deal. The only service that I’m aware of currently is on UA out of Newark. I certainly hope that DL doesn’t put this flight at JFK and just add competition in that market. I don’t think DTW counts as “east coast” but that would be my pick. Easy terminal for connections and far better than the big east coast gateways for international travel.

USBusinessTraveller
Guest

United – 2 services EWR-BOM, EWR-DEL
Air India – 5 non stop services BOM-EWR, DEL-JFK, DEL-ORD, DEL-SFO, DEL-IAD, plus one 5th freedom

Delta is late to this market.

A
Guest
A

UA is the only US based carrier flying to India and Air India is a Star Alliance partner. I wouldn’t call that “late to the party” but rather a monopoly on direct service.

AFAIK there is no OneWorld or SkyTeam partners doing direct flights currently from anywhere in the USA. I have several friends who do fly to BOM 4-5x annually and are usually connecting at AMS on KLM as their corporate travel is through Delta. It works but given a DL option flying from a US gateway I think they’d be interested.

USBusinessTraveller
Guest

Air India and United may be in the same alliance, but they are not partners. Alliances don’t necessarily mean close collaboration. United’s partner to India is Lufthansa (joint venture). So no, no monopoly at all.

danwriter1
Member
danwriter1

“…curries political favor.”

1st Place: Semi-clever use of pun related to the subject matter. ;)

JB
Member
JB

Isn’t the real advantage that the ME carriers have over DL or UA is that they fly to so many cities in India, and you can make your connection at DBX? Let’s say you’re flying from NY-Bangalore. On UA, you’d fly to BOM, then have to connect there onward to Bangalore. I’d rather change at DBX, nicer airport , easier connection, than having to deal with BOM for the connection. If you’re simply flying from the US to BOM or DHL< maybe it's not as much of a consideration, but all those other cities, the ME3 have an advantage in… Read more »

Tim Dunn
Member
Tim Dunn

The ME3 fly to far fewer cities than the US3 serve in Europe. For some cities, it might be a question of a one for one connection but for other people, it is not. Further, DL specifically said they would increase their partnership with Jet Airways which will facilitate connections. India is investing in major airport expansions including at BOM which will improve the connection experience.

Sxf24
Guest
Sxf24

I think the point was that connecting in AUH/DOH/DXB is superior to almost any other airport. If a second connection is required, it is better to have it be in the US than in India.

There has been, and will be, a market for non-stop US-India service and connections. Both the US3 and ME3 have continued growing. With a huge developing population served by the ME3,, isn’t there room for both? Aren’t consumers and airlines well served by healthy competition?

Tim Dunn
Member
Tim Dunn

With all due respect, perceptions about service preferences are pretty individual. I have flown Emirates a number of times, have changed planes in India and Europe en route to India, and have flown US carriers. DXB is a massive facility and it is crowded. On a per person basis, I would strongly bet that ATL’s international concourses or JFK T4 provide as much or more space and amenities that are as good. Again, personal perception and preference. I think the bigger point is that there are enough people that DL – and UA – could easily add more nonstop service… Read more »

Sxf24
Guest
Sxf24

@Tim Dunn, you are speaking from a very US-centric perspective. While US customers may prefer to connect in the US, most would prefer to make a second connection in DXB rather than BOM or DEL. The secondary US-India markets are where the ME3 will continue to add value, albeit to a relatively small market.

I would point out that the US sucks for international to international connections. Europe is not much better, creating a real opportunity for the ME3 to serve markets that have not been well served before.

Tim Dunn
Member
Tim Dunn

Not only does the US suck at international to international connections but US airports and post 9/11 policies mean that international passengers transiting the US are in reality coming to the US as local passengers from a documentation perspective. US carriers really do not compete much in the international to international market and that is not likely to change with DL’s India service which will very likely be focused primarily on US and Indian passengers. Again, preference on where to connect is personal. I am sure there are some Indians that would rather connect in their own country. I’d love… Read more »

Mgarfinkle
Member
Mgarfinkle

Who says the “state-subsidized airlines” are the Gulf carriers ? What about Air India? Let’s not forget that Air India may fall into private hands, thus rationalizing AI’s service. This, too, benefits Delta.

Hawk
Member
Hawk

Cranky Flier | Mgarfinkle commented on Delta to India: Anatomy of a Masterful Press Release

You can add in Alitalia in that group but neither is trying to dominate anything, just survive. Good luck with that.

tvmccabe
Member
tvmccabe

Excellent analysis

Anthony
Member
Anthony

Yes indeed…. a good example of critical thinking. Journalism students should see this.

henry LAX
Guest

DL is just wasting everyone’s time with their semi-half-non-announcement trying to fake hype ….

we’ve seen the same “O M G IT’S GONNA BE GAME CHANGER” crap coming out of WN, and it’s mostly a nothing-burger (in the most literal sense too, since they aren’t offering a SINGLE Hawaii flight from any of the 5 LA Basin airports ….zzzz)

Tim Dunn
Member
Tim Dunn

and yet there have been hundreds of millions of dollars in stock valuation that have changed hands because the world is expecting that LUV will radically change the Hawaii market and it might come at the expense of other carriers. Maybe they will and maybe they won’t but you sure can’t argue that WN hasn’t been masterful in dribbling out discussions of Hawaii even without being able to announce firm schedules or begin ticket sales. And DAL and LUV still remain the two US airlines with the highest market capitalization and also led the industry in profitability for the last… Read more »

USBusinessTraveller
Guest

Spot on Henry. It’s disingenuous to allude to their leading the industry with non stops to India when United (and before them Continental) has been serving India non stop to BOM and DEL for 13 years, and Air India now has 5 non stops. It’s AI that’s been ramping up significantly since 2015 going from two routes to 5 plus a 5th freedom from Ahmedabad via London Heathrow. The whole reason for DL returning (especially its timing) is political. To return sooner (when they could have done) while still complaining about the ME3 would have blown their case out of… Read more »

Tim Dunn
Member
Tim Dunn

Where did DL state that its return to India is “industry leading?” DL is the most profitable US airline, if not the most profitable legacy carrier in the world. They are SOLELY returning to the India market because they believe they can be profitable serving the market. You do realize that DL’s partnership with Jet Airways has only recently expanded including with 9W’s placement of a former DL Asia exec in the position of CEO at 9W? As a result of the leadership changes, DL has increased the partnership with 9W via AF, KL and VS. It is clearly as… Read more »

henry LAX
Guest
henry LAX

here comes the DL parrot who uses system-wide profit to claim they must be succeeding at every single market.

Why not claim DL is most profitable to HKG while you’re at it ? Or maybe you can also use Microsoft’s corporate-wide profits to justify their Windows Phone strategy too.

Tim Dunn
Member
Tim Dunn

The US DOT does not provide route or hub specific data, Henry, and I said nothing about DL being profitable in every market or even in any particular market. They do provide profitability data by global region and that data does indeed correlate with the profitability data that each airline provides to the SEC in their system level financial reports. Airlines provide the data that the DOT uses to provide profitability by global region. DL clearly is able to develop network strategies that provide the highest system level profitability and also makes DL the only US airline that is consistently… Read more »

USBusinessTraveller
Guest

Tim, you’re making Cranky’s case every time you post. DL didn’t state their return to India was industry leading, and nor did I say they stated it. But they *alluded* to it with their misleading press release. “Delta Air Lines will begin nonstop flights between the United States and Mumbai, India, next year, linking the U.S. with one of its strongest trading partners.” The US is already “linked” with “one of its strongest trading partners” by seven non stop routes, two of them by a rival US carrier for 13 straight years, and one additional AI route using a (cough… Read more »

Tim Dunn
Member
Tim Dunn

So why does UA fly to Atlanta since DL already serves every market that UA could possibly fly to from that city? Detroit? Minneapolis?…. need I go on? Why is DL’s route planning limited by what UA or AI does? It simply is not. You do realize that UA was indeed a part of the same Partnership in which AA and DL to voice concerns about the ME3? Do you also realize that UA’s execs said with the ascension of Mr. Muñoz that focus on the ME3 was not a priority so EK added its 2nd fifth freedom route to… Read more »

USBusinessTraveller
Guest

“You might want to check w/ Mr. Muñoz before you talk about DL’s pathetic spin.”

Why would I need to check with Mr. Munoz before posting on a thread like this? I don’t know about you or the others but I don’t work for any airline. I’m giving my opinion as a (frequent) fare paying passenger, and my opinion is that this spin is pathetic and misleading and unnecessary.

Tim Dunn
Member
Tim Dunn

Of course, you are entitled to an opinion as is everyone else including CF who launched the discussion here. The problem with opinions is that many of them are built upon facts which are either true or the “facts” themselves are not correct. Many have stated that the US3 got noting out of the recent agreements with the US3 so anything they do including having participated in the campaign against the ME3 must be spin. The simple fact is that there is significant disagreement even within the US government including the State and Commerce Depts. about the benefits not just… Read more »

Dan Goldzband
Guest

What’s with the photo?

Gustavo Cifuentes
Member

as usual, you are a master at what you do Cranky. But I have to say that a** kissing was not needed. You can say the same thing with other words. I’ve always said that only inferior minds need to resource to bad language. This is clearly not the case with you. So it is very surprising…..to say the least.

Dan Stratman
Member

As a pilot for Northwest airlines I flew the DC-10 from Amsterdam to Mumbai. It was an 11 1/2 hour flight and a real eye opener seeing India for the first time.

Sol
Guest

Great catch, and I have to say this is a classic example of a masterful PR team that Delta Airlines is using (or perhaps an overly glib Delta PR team). Either way, great analysis here.