Delta says Northwest rebranding is ‘months’ ahead of schedule


Delta Air Lines Inc. said it’s “months” ahead of schedule with rebranding the planes and people it inherited from Northwest Airlines in the U.S. industry’s biggest merger.

Delta’s red and blue flight attendant uniforms are replacing Northwest’s gray ensembles, and the “widget” logo has been painted on dozens of the newly acquired jets. Pastrami sandwiches and other items from Delta’s for-purchase food menu will appear on Northwest jets next week, Tim Mapes, senior vice president of marketing, said today in an interview.

The moves are visible signs of the purchase that made Delta the world’s biggest airline. Delta is counting on swift integration to achieve $2 billion in savings and new revenue amid a worsening recession and plunging travel demand.

“I would urge them to bury the Northwest brand as soon as possible,” said Jay Sorensen, president of consulting firm IdeaWorks in Shorewood, Wisconsin. “Northwest had a weaker brand than Delta and customers already know it’s going to go away, so there’s no reason to drag it out.”

Northwest and UAL Corp.’s United Airlines tied for the worst customer-satisfaction scored among major U.S. carriers in a 2008 survey by consumer-research firm J.D. Power & Associates, with two points out of a possible five. Delta had four points.

Delta, based in Atlanta, had been the third-largest U.S. carrier before completing its all-stock purchase of No. 5 Northwest on Oct. 29. Together, they have $35 billion in revenue and 75,000 employees.

Shares Advance

Delta gained 60 cents, or 11 percent, to $6.28 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading, its highest closing price since Feb. 17. The shares tumbled 28 percent in the past year.

The company has made progress on meshing operations, which Delta estimates will cost $500 million and will be complete by the end of 2010. Steps taken so far include shuffling planes from each airline’s fleet to match demand on certain routes.

Mapes said the combined airline is “months ahead” of its plan for converting Northwest to the Delta brand, with employees focused first on changes that customers would see. All 300 Northwest planes will be repainted by the end of 2010, Mapes said, and frequent-flier programs have already been combined.

Among the amenities most requested by Northwest customers were fresh-food choices such as salads, sandwiches and cheese plates, so Delta will expand its food-for-purchase program to Northwest flights starting next week, Mapes said.

“If there’s something we can do to help them avoid stopping in the terminal, we’ll do it,” Mapes said.

Passengers on Northwest flights will soon see napkins and snacks including Biscoff graham-cracker cookies bearing Delta’s logo, and a new edition of Delta’s in-flight magazine called Sky will be tucked into seatback pockets.

“It’s going considerably faster than we expected,” Mapes said.

Delta expects to have a joint operating certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration by the end of this year. Airport check-in kiosks and Web sites won’t be fully combined until 2010.