Delta’s bizarre, immature reaction to a party in Atlanta

Delta‘s latest attack on the ME3 airlines resulted in an unlikely casualty. The airline will drop its support of Atlanta‘s Fox Theatre because the venue hosted a gala event for Qatar Airways on Tuesday night as that carrier prepares to launch service to Atlanta beginning June 1st. Atlanta’s home-town carrier took umbrage with the venue hosting a party for its rival and announced that it would not renew its sponsorship deal when it expires a year from now.

“When the CEO of Qatar first told the world that they would be flying to Atlanta, what he told the world was that he was going to start a flight from Doha to Atlanta… to rub salt in the wounds of Delta,” Carter said. “So we were very surprised and disappointed when we learned that the Fox Theatre — an organization that we’ve supported for years, an organization that has called us its official airline — we were shocked and surprised when we learned that they were hosting the coming out party for Qatar.”

Yes, apparently Delta believes that sponsoring a venue means the airline gets veto rights over every event that venue hosts. And when it didn’t get what it wanted Delta staged a very public – and, quite frankly, pathetic – tantrum over the issue, ultimately choosing to take its proverbial ball away and go home. Chief Legal Officer (is that really a job title rather than General Counsel??) Peter Carter suggested in that AJC interview that a phone call from the theatre could have “prevented the whole thing” though likely in the form of Delta trying to force the Fox to not host the event. And, of course, there’s still the year left in the partnership so Delta and the Fox Theatre will have to figure out how to play nicely during that time. Delta could have walked away next year with a simple “The partnership was no longer successful for us,” and still made a point. Instead it chose this very, very public display. To what end?

UPDATE: The bit below was reversed in a statement later today. So that’s a step back in the right direction.

Even more impressive is that yesterday’s spat with the Fox Theatre isn’t the only sponsorship deal which managed to raise alarm bells. Out in Seattle, where Delta is working hard to ingrain itself as part of the community (though also curtailing growth plans) Delta signed a three-year deal to be the exclusive airline sponsor of Seattle’s Pride parade. And the word “exclusive” in there is an important one. Because it means that no other airline names or logos can be present in the parade. Not surprisingly, Alaska Airlines employees are pissed that, after decades of participation, they can no longer walk the parade in their uniforms, t-shirts or show any affiliation to their company in any way.

On the plus side, Seattle Pride gets three years of funding for its event. But it does so by excluding groups from participating. The irony there is rich. Atlanta, on the other hand, now needs an organization to step up and fill the gap Delta has left for supporting the local arts scene. All because the company doesn’t like another airline. I cannot help but think that even teenage jealousy wouldn’t look this crazy or petulant as retribution and behavior goes.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. If it hadn’t been for Delta owning the City of Atlanta’s officials, I would have had Atlanta’s second airport practically in my back yard …

  2. Yes, Delta is acting petulantly. However, perhaps the Fox could have made a quick call to their largest benefactor knowing full well that Dekta and Qatar are now bitter(and childish) rivals?
    Also, the event in Seattle is not the Alaska Airlines Pride Parade. Nothing is stopping anyone, even ALK employees, from marching.
    Perhaps the group who sold out to make Delta the “exclusive” sponsor should shoulder part of the blame for their myopic money grab?
    All that said, Delta’s acts are a bit passive-aggressive too.

    1. Delta’s moves are well beyond passive-aggressive; they are simply aggressive.

      As for the suggestion that nothing is stopping those employees from marching, that’s true. But they can only do so as an unaffiliated group, forced to hide part of who they are because of a sponsorship deal. That the Pride parade of all things believes that’s a good idea – and that Delta took the option – is bad mojo IMO.

    1. Even if the plan is to not renew as a result of such a move the way in which Delta did it is immature and unprofessional IMO. I see it a bullying, not business.

  3. Delta holds grudges and will never forget. Delta hates American/US Airways ever since the hostile takeover attempt which started the ‘Keep Delta, My Delta’ movement. And now that AA and Alaska are tight partners, Alaska is also the enemy. I’m not surprised at Delta’s reaction to a ME3 party celebrating a new route into ATL.

  4. This is really frustrating to me. Delta, while acting like a child, is not the only bad guy here (and incidentally, if they wanted to prevent this, they would’ve included in their contract with Fox something similar to what you mention in Seattle). Yes, Qatar has clearly made it’s goal to poke Delta in the eye – and they are doing a fantastic job.
    But the key part in Fox’s statement: “As we are not in tune with the industry politics of our sponsors,” – You can’t tell me that any organization that wants to keep sponsors, doesn’t understand the environment that their sponsor works in. It is stakeholder 101, and for that, shame on Fox Theater (or at least their PA/Fundraisers).

    1. Well, this is embarrassing – I meant to say “Stakeholder Management 101” – not “Stakeholder 101”

  5. In my opinion, this Delta flexing their muscle, as they like to do, aka Korean Airlines as a SkyTeam partner being in Group 4. Delta wanted a JV and Korean said no, so Delta punished them. While that didn’t make much noise as this recent muscle flexing, Fox, and the marketing mistake in Seattle. Delta does look a little childish and “feelin’ their oats” in these latest article.

    Time will tell if this is just a few isolated events or if this behavior will increase.

      1. sorry, I think I read an archived version in my feed reader and didn’t see the update.

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