A big change for Delta, indeed

Well, it's certainly been a long road for Delta, but only three months after exiting Chapter 11 bankruptcy, it has posted a $1.8 billion profit.

"Delta’s emergence from bankruptcy was a significant milestone in the history of the company and the airline industry,” said Gerald Grinstein, Delta’s chief executive officer, in a press release today. “In delivering the kind of outstanding financial, operational and customer service results we saw this quarter, it is clear Delta people at every level are producing a strong airline with a bright future.”

Delta's profit is even more amazing when compared to the airline's financial performance this time last year (it posted a $2.2 billion loss). Not counting bankruptcy-related costs, profits came out to 70 cents a share - much better than the 59 cents per share that analysts had predicted.

We'll see how United and Northwest, two carriers that have also gone through long, hard bankruptcy processes, have performed financially when they release their second quarter results (on the 24th and the 30th of the month, respectively).

And now for a bit of an editoral. Recently I've noticed that it doesn't seem like United or Northwest are announcing their bankruptcy exits the way that Delta has. Its 'Change the Experience' website allows travelers to suggest ways to improve Delta (or so the website says), and touts such things as its "Clean Campaign". The airline has also run television and print advertisements announcing its 'change'. It also put up a 'Today is a new day' banner on its website following its exit from bankruptcy.

I'm not sure if this effort is having any impact with the flying public, but it probably wouldn't hurt Northwest and United if they did the same thing. After all, Chapter 11 bankruptcy - even if it doesn't really affect the day-to-day operations of an airline - can have a negative effect on the average flyer. So when you exit bankruptcy, be sure to announce it as much as you can. Delta's done a pretty good job of it, and their agressive PR campaign, combined with the latest posted profit, will probably continue to improve the airline's image. (Oh, and the fact that the CEO is giving up a lot of his pay to a fund for employees - that might help employee morale a bit, and morale, good or bad, is something that affects the flying experience.)

To be fair, Northwest has announced its exit as well. In the July 2007 copy of WorldTraveler, its inflight magazine, President and CEO Doug Steenland penned a letter entitled 'A New Day at NWA, along with a link to the "NWA Moments" photo gallery on Flickr. And United did release a Hemispheres magazine article highlighting the changes it underwent during restructuring. But whether United and Northwest can genuinely 'change' (and whether Delta's 'change' extends beyond a slick PR campaign) remains to be seen.