On Oct.28, the day Delta announced
it was going to discontinue Song, I was both literally and
figuratively quite high on Song -- above 30,000 feet, in fact, with
four-plus hours to appreciate what a good airline it is. Perhaps
its my feminine side that responds to Song.
The night before,
by coincidence, I was speaking with someone who had been on the
team that conceived and developed Song. The airline, he said, was
developed with women firmly in mind.
Song was originally
launched to compete with JetBlue on routes between the Northeast
and Florida. These are primarily leisure routes, and it did not
escape Songs creators that it is women who plan most family
Focus groups of
women helped determine the interior color palette and the choice of
Kate Spade to design the uniforms. It was input from women that
guided the offerings for children in both entertainment programming
and menu selection.
From the large logo
visible in the galley to the recipes of its mixed drinks, women
Now that this has
been pointed out to me, it does seem that Song is perhaps the least
macho of airlines. Its hard to imagine Clint Eastwood or The Rock
relaxing in its color-splashed leather seats, sipping Songs
signature green apple martinis.
But perhaps more
important, its hard to imagine Deltas beleaguered CEO, Gerald
Grinstein, in one of those seats. He was never a fan of Song. Upon
taking the airlines reins in late 2003, he stated his distaste for
the low-fare offshoot by saying it should have been named Swan
He did change his
tune -- or at least came to realize it wasnt good for morale to be
snide about his own company. In an internal memo he penned to tell
employees that Song was being phased out, he positioned Songs
demise as a merger between Song and Delta.
In that memo, when
he detailed benefits for customers that the newly merged airlines
would bring, they came primarily from the Song side of the ledger.
What Delta brings to this marriage is its fingers-crossed-tightly
hope that profitability can be found in expanded premium cabins and
on long-haul routes.
The approach of
baiting the front of the plane to attract high-yield -- and
primarily male -- business travelers, while offering coach services
that are attractive to vacation-planning women (and the stray man
who appreciates a pale-green cocktail) offers an appealing yin-yang
symmetry that could work.
This dual approach
is more daring than it might first seem. Airlines have long acted
on the belief that to get people to pay for first class, you must
reduce comfort and service in the back of the plane. A passenger
didnt so much run to the comfort of first class as run from the
unpleasantness of coach.
If coach actually
becomes enjoyable on a legacy carrier, will people still have the
incentive to book up front? I would back Grinsteins bet that they
will. And if so, it will be the first big win for both airlines and
consumers to come from the classic carriers in quite some
That internal Delta
memo was focused on improvements in service, but the heart of the
matter -- for Grinstein, most certainly -- lies in what appears to
be a throwaway line near the bottom of the first page: By merging
brands, we will also benefit from a more simplified operation,
reduced overhead costs and more focused marketing
To get that
benefit, he needs to fly planes with fewer empty seats and higher
fares. By restructuring an airline to increase its appeal to both
genders, he just may succeed.