Delta Airlines Organizational Behavior

A company must have a clear vision for success in order to succeed: a realization of what has worked for the company in the past, an understanding of the standing of the company today, and a vision for where the company will be heading tomorrow. Delta Air Lines is the epitome of a company that realizes what it takes to succeed with a clearly defined pathway to operational successes.

Delta’s road to operational success has been a journey for the company; ever-changing and consistently moving forward. Through trails and reevaluation, Delta Air Lines has grown into one of the most commonly recognized airlines in the world. Delta is a company that has branched off from the concept of ‘Southern Hospitality’ to an airline that is on the cutting edge of employee engagement, a game changer for employee standards, a facilitator of employee diversity, a company that is consistently adaptable to change, an industry leader that is willing to reevaluate plans in times of change, and a true leader in technology.

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Yesterday: Delta’s Early Organizational Culture and Image Delta Air Lines was founded as Delta Air Service in 1928 (“Delta,” 2012). Ever since, this evolving company has been keenly aware of and utilizes cultural norms as a way to update business practices. The company’s headquarters is located in Atlanta, Georgia, the heart of southern living and southern hospitality. According to one airline historian, “Delta… garnered the reputation of being a service-oriented Southern airline with all the graciousness the term ‘southern hospitality’ implies” (Whitelegg, 2005, p. 8).

The airline’s company culture was founded on the “Delta Spirit” which was considered the company’s image for integrating southern hospitality (Whitelegg, 2005). During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Delta’s ability to create a family atmosphere, through the use of southern hospitality etiquettes, for both their customers and their employees safeguarded them from labor strikes and the insistence on labor unions because their employees were genuinely happy to work for Delta. Consequently, Delta is the only large US airline in operation today that does not have employee unionization.

To solidify the southern hospitality image, Delta flight attendants or stewardesses had to be “knowledgeable about current affairs [and able to] carry on an intelligent conversation” (Whitelegg, 2005, p. 10). During the 1940s to the early 1970s, the flight attendants became charming southern bells who could entertain and carry on conversations with Delta’s primarily male business clientele. Flight attendants went through an extensive selection process and training period before they were allowed to work for the company.

According to words spoken by Mary Ruth Rouse, the chief stewardess trainer, “every girl who passes the rigorous acceptance standards to become a stewardess has the potential to be beautiful in her own right… I hope I have made clear how your looks are directly linked to your attitudes and your life style” (p. 12). Delta Air Lines was being a rebel in her own right by going against the traditional family image of the time. They were teaching young southern women how to be confident and encouraged employment outside the home before and continuing through the civil rights movement.

Consequently, Delta was helping to change the attitudes and behavior of young women who had been taught to be housewives and mothers. The pay and freedom that Delta offered gave these women a way to escape the confines of farm life and their traditional upbringing. Their attitudes were formed through a combination of direct experiences and social learning (Nelson & Quick, 2013). However, the flight attendants showed exemplary job satisfaction and work attitudes because they were finally being given an opportunity to make a difference in their own lives.

Accordingly, the expectancy of a certain behavior could be stressful on the flight attendants because they were expected to have many personality traits and be able to use the right one at the right time to satisfy customer expectations. The perception and expectations of the flight attendants was constantly changing. For years prior to the civil rights movement, Delta imposed strict rules on the women to include prohibition of children and marriage fearing such would interfere with work. As an added bonus, Delta used the women’s availability as a way to lure businessmen to fly with Delta to be able to pick up eligible women Whitelegg, 2011).

According to one flight attendant, “being associated with the airlines turned out to be a happy hunting ground for marriage partners for lots of young men and women with healthy hormones and honorable intentions” (Whitelegg, 2005, p. 16). Recognizing this, the image of the flight attendants become provocative as their uniforms became less formal. However, women still found their jobs were liberating because they were breaking the traditional model and perception of women’s place in society.

Delta’s corporate social responsibility was not questioned because the social etiquette for young women during this time was to get married. According to Nelson & Quick, “ethical conduct at the individual level can translate into social responsibility at the organizational level” (p. 60). As the United States culture changed from a society primarily dominated by white males in the workforce to women and minorities holding prominent positions in business, the image of the southern bell flight attendants became outdated and less effective.

Further, Delta negotiated mergers and acquisitions and suffered deregulation in 1978 that placed new people in job positions that were not familiar with Delta’s image. The organizational culture suffered during this time because Delta was losing their competitive advantage and the company was under constant scrutiny for not hiring African American workers (Whitelegg, 2005). In 1993, Delta suffered a financial loss for the first time in many years. Consequently management began the utilization of technology as a way to gain market globalization.

They also recognized that diversity as an untapped tool for business performance and “managing diversity is a battle to value the differences that individuals bring to the workplace” (Nelson & Quick, 2013). The image of the Southern bell flight attendants was lost because “branding was positioned around membership of global alliances… [which made] good old southern hospitality seemed plain unsophisticated” (Whitelegg, 2005, p. 25). In 1997, Delta Air Lines established her commitment to diversity and human rights with the establishment of the Delta Price for Global Understanding (Schupska, 2012).

Yesterday: Survival Through Employee Engagement On September 11, 2001, events of unprecedented proportions took the lives of US civilians and military personnel. Many lapses including lost communication between foreign and domestic agencies were highlighted (“gpo. gov,” 24/8, p. 353). A delicate balance between protecting civil liberties and layered security was put into place and airlines lost. The result of the devastating attacks was increased security and decreased consumer confidence from passengers of Delta Air Lines.

In order to combat the loss of consumer confidence in the airline industry, Delta instated programs to help reduce the number of lost bags. “Post 9-11, the airlines had to develop systems so they knew which bags were on which planes with their passengers and which were not, and they discovered it was a good way to cut down on misrouted baggage” (Cohn, 2004). Since the 9-11 attacks, Delta has instated “radio frequency identification tags” that are “attached to luggage that can be used to track bags from multiple locations” (Cohn, 2004).

This luggage tracking system has been projected to save the company “much of the $100 million annually it spends on mishandled baggage” (Cohn, 2004). This top down effort from the leaders within Delta has helped to create a feasible and workable model for the proper handling of consumer baggage after the events of September 11, 2011. “The way [Delta’s] leaders deal[t] with crises communicate[d] a powerful message about [the] culture” of the organization (Nelson & Quick, 2013). Similarly, from the midst of disaster came strength and unity for Delta Air Lines.

The airline turned to the Delta Board Council for guidance. This council is a peer-elected team tasked with understanding the pulse of the employees. They conduct surveys, work on special projects, convey the Delta vision, and provide candid feedback on employee relations and recommendations to improve operations. The employee involvement model was essential in restructuring during change of the industry. The airline created the slogan “Delta remembers America” in expression of the company’s grief along with the nation (Kaufman, 2011). Today: A Benchmark of Industry Standards

Delta Air Lines took the top billet in Fortune Magazine’s Most Admired Airline for 2011. Today, Delta is clearly a worldwide leader in the aviation industry serving 160 million travelers annually. The airline’s fleet of seven hundred aircrafts travels to three hundred-twenty destinations in sixty countries on 6 continents. Delta employs an impressive staff of eighty thousand. In addition, “Delta is investing more than $3 billion through 2013 in airport facilities and global products, services and technology to enhance the customer experience in the air and on the ground” (“Delta,” 2012).

Global competition has challenged organizations to become more focused, to meet changing product and service demands, and to exceed customers’ expectation of high quality” (Nelson & Quick, 2013). “Delta has invested nearly $5 million dollars in technology to help customers who have been inconvenienced by flight delays or cancellations” (“Delta air lines,” 2003). Flight delays and cancellations are the norm in the airline industry, but the way an airline handles these customer complaints speaks volumes for the business. While more than 70 percent of these situations are weather-related and out of an airline’s control, whatever the reason for a flight delay or cancellation, [Delta] want[s] to ensure that [their] customers’ travel experiences are better, faster and friendlier at Delta” (“Delta air lines,” 2003).

In response to customer complaints, Delta rolled out “more options, including improved gate information display and gate reader technology, Delta Direct phones in airport concourses, enhanced lobby kiosks, and continued access to Delta’s friendly, customer- focused professionals” (“Delta air lines,” 2003).

These added customer amenities help to set the benchmark of customer service for the thousands served day in and day out. Today: Diversity in the Workforce Currently, Delta is focusing on customer satisfaction but in a totally different way than trying to appeal to their social needs. Delta’s new corporate culture incorporates the value of learning from failures, learning on every level of the company, and learning needs to be on the cutting edge (Salopek, 2005). After the merger with Northwestern in 2008, customer satisfaction declined, flights were delayed, and baggage losses increased (Freifeld, 2012).

The problem stemmed from uniting a diverse group of employees who are accustomed to working under different circumstances. This was not the first merger. Delta acquired Western Airlines in 1987, Northeast Airlines in 1972 and Chicago and Southern Air Lines in 1953(“Delta,” 2012). Using lessons from the past, management decided to compromise by incorporating the best methods from both companies. According to Nelson and Quick (2013), “the degree to which individuals are open and receptive to diversity training depends on their level of diversity competence” (p. 51).

The differences between the two companies and the diversity in employees ultimately improved Delta’s organizational behavior. The company had to create an atmosphere of “openness in the organization’s culture” (Nelson & Quick, 2013). All employees were trained on the “Greet, Assist, and Thank Model” of customer service to solidify the cohesiveness of the different employees (Freifeld, 2012). This emergence of shared vision extended to every Delta Airlines employee.

The company is incorporating communication technologies to emphasize “talent management, organizational effectiveness, e-learning, and corporate training” (Salopek, 2003, p. 8). Computer-mediated communications was once used only by technical specialists, now influences nearly all managers’ behavior in the work environment. (Nelson & Quick, 2013). Delta has changed from a paternalistic culture of taking care of their employees to a company who utilities the latest technologies and arms employees with the tools to grow and make decisions to further enhance the company and their professional careers. Pilots from are given tools such as E-learning and simulated flying exercises to practice real world scenarios in a protected environment.

In light of current economic times, Delta has been forced to re-evaluate current business practices. As of this month, Delta has decided to close COMAIR. “Delta Air Lines’ decision to close its wholly owned subsidiary COMAIR marks another sign of the changed thinking from US majors about operating in-house regional carriers and small jets” (Russell, 2012). The ultimate decision to close this business unit was a result of the fact that the airline was “no longer competitive with other regionale because of its high unit costs per flight hour on some of the ‘oldest’ 50-seat jets in Delta’s regional fleet” (Russell, 2012).

In the midst of change, Delta executives must “learn from failure” and “respond positively to the opportunities presented to them” in the future (Nelson & Quick, 2013). The decision to close the COMAIR subsidiary will ultimately benefit the company in the long run and continue to make smart business decisions for the financial well-being of the company. Similarly, Delta is currently setting the stage for other companies to follow suit in regards to increasing shareholder value. Delta’s decision to discontinue operations of their COMAIR subsidiary is a game changer in the airline industry. Other airlines are expected to follow Delta’s lead in shrinking their 50-seat regional fleets” (Russell, 2012).

The decision to close this fleet will ultimately help to free up additional funds to make further improvements to the airlines current business operations. For the future of Delta, the company has “outlined a plan to reduce the number of small jets in its fleet to less than one hundred twenty from three-hundred forty two, increase the number of 76-seat jets by seventy and add eighty-eight 110-seat Boeing 717-200s to its mainline fleet – all by 2015” (Russell, 2012).

With jet fuel prices spiking and staying high, the users of fifty seat jets have become dinosaurs and airlines that have a high percentage of those smaller regional jets have to go through some restructuring” (Russell, 2012). In regards to making the tough decisions in an airline, Delta has consistently exhibited positive behaviors during times of change. Tomorrow: Incorporating Technology and Recycling “New technologies and electronic commerce are here to stay” (Nelson & Quick, 2013). When PC World selected the Top 10 Tech Friendly US Airlines for 2012, Delta Air Lines topped the list. The airlines know that electrical outlets, work desks, and zippy Wi-Fi can influence passengers’ decisions to fly with Airline A or with Airline B” (Geuss, 2012).

Airlines are looking for ways to gain an edge to gain loyalty of tech savvy travelers. With security protocols in place over the last decade, travelers are encouraged to arrive at the airport up to 2 hours before domestic and 3 hours before international flights. Consumers want to get the most out of this wait time and improvements in technology allow them to stay connected with friends, create a virtual office, catch up on the news, and watch on demand movies.

Delta is answering the call with technology upgrades in twenty of its airports. They do not want travelers to have to search for the one lone electrical outlet that passengers are waiting to use for a quick recharge or paying for recharge stations. Rather, they are creating lounge areas with an abundance of electrical hook-ups to include both electrical outlets and USB connections. iPad stations are underway at LaGuardia, JFK and Minneapolis-St. Paul International. The technological advances do not stop at the gate, Gogo Wi-Fi allows travelers to purchase Wi-Fi on many domestic flights.

Currently the Wi-Fi is only available 100 miles off-shore, but work is underway to outfit international flights with the same capabilities (Geuss, 2012). In addition to the ability to recharge and go wireless, consumers want ecofriendly and convenient Apps. Again Delta Air Lines is answering the call. The Delta Mobile Application becomes a virtual travel agent. Flights may be modified, arrivals and departure updates, change seats, baggage policies checked, reservations at partner hotels, check-in and print boarding pass to smartphone.

Another impressive feature even allows the ability to allow travelers to track their checked luggage. The airline has incorporated social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter with real time customer service availability. Delta’s vice president of e-commerce Bob Kupbens states, “We want to engage with our customers with our digital channels as much as possible. It’s a way for us to get people out of line and off the phone (Geuss, 2012). ” Delta Airlines designed concierge service with manned stations separate from the ticket counter and terminal desk.

These support stations relieve stress by assisting the traveler with instant rebooking, printing boarding passes, and checking flight status. Delta is also a leader in on-flight entertainment for the company’s passengers. Currently, Delta offers Delta on Demand on select flights. “Delta on Demand is an advanced, touch-screen digital entertainment system that puts [the passenger] in charge of their entertainment options” (“In flight entertainment,” 2012). This option is complementary for members of the BusinessElite, First Class and for customers in the Economy cabin on all international flights (“In flight entertainment,” 2012).

Audio on Demand and In-Flight Trivia and Games are offered on select flights as an added amenity for loyal Delta customers. On select flights that do not offer Delta on Demand features, there are new releases Overhead Movies to entertain passengers at 30,000 feet. Delta is committed to recycling and minimizing the burden of aviation travel on the environment. Their onboard recycling efforts generate 1 million aluminum cans a year and they help keep over 550 tons of material out of the landfill. Delta Headquarters also has convenient drop-off to facilitate employee donation of paper, plastic and glass.

The airline had a clever idea to couple one good deed with another and use raised funds for charity. In 2011, they donated the $36,000 earned in recycling profit to Habitat for Humanity (Seydel, 2011). Aviation modifications help conserve fuel and slower speeds are used for greater fuel economy when possible. Conclusion: Delta is Poised for Success in the Future Delta Airlines is a forward-thinking company that has consistently held a vision for success through the different phases of their existence.

Delta is a company founded on “Southern Hospitality” with an unwavering commitment to providing employment opportunities to women before the civil rights movement. Delta Air Lines recognized the importance of diversity and embraced change. Through the tragic events of September 11, 2011, the airline was able to reorganize to ultimately create a safer, more welcoming environment for their customers.

Delta is a household name and the company has set the bar high with cutting edge industry standards. Through mergers and increased use of technology, Delta has ultimately improved the customer experience. Delta Air Lines is a company here to stay. With strong American roots yesterday, recognition of the global diversity today and technology tomorrow; the sky is the limit.


  1. Cohn, M. (2004). Lost baggage figures improve with tighter airport security. Knight ridder tribune business news, Retrieved from http://ezproxy. renau. edu:2048/login? url=http://search. proquest. com/docview/463995304? accountid=9708
  2. Delta. (2012, February). Retrieved from http://news. delta. com/index. php? s=18&cat=47
  3. Freifeld, L. (2012). View from 30, 000 feet. Training. 49(2), 38-40.
  4. Geuss, M. , & Yamshon, L. (2012). Retrieved from http://www. pcworld. com/article/248162/the_top_10_techfriendly_us_airlines. html gpo. gov.

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