Skip to content

5 takeaways from Delta's CEO on the future of travel

Feb. 22, 2021
5 min read
5 takeaways from Delta's CEO on the future of travel
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

If you're holding out hope for a major international trip later this year, you might want to reconsider.

That's according to Delta's chief executive officer, Ed Bastian, in his Monday interview with New York Times editor Andrew Ross Sorkin as part of the Dealbook DC virtual conference.

Bastian discussed the demand outlook, a vaccine requirement, the future of travel and more, as the carrier looks toward recovery from the industry's worst crisis in decades.

Want more airline-specific news? Sign up for TPG’s free new biweekly Aviation newsletter!

2021 is the year of domestic travel

Bastian began by acknowledging that there's an incredible pent-up urge to travel, both domestically and internationally. With many pandemic-weary travelers under lockdown or stay-at-home orders, it's no surprise that Bastian thinks the latter half of 2021 will usher in a new era for the industry's recovery.

"The U.S. is our focus for the rest of the year. I don’t see international travel coming back in any meaningful form for probably another 12 months; maybe spring 2022 will be the real start," said Bastian.

As for why international travel will take longer to recover, Bastian blames "the lack of testing and vaccine distribution" across the world.

Of course, a rumored domestic pre-travel test requirement would nearly decimate any prospect of a meaningful recovery in travel. According to Bastian, "domestically, it would be a nightmare scenario. It would cause our industry to go back at least six months in time in terms of any demand we created."

Fortunately for Delta and the rest of the travel industry, it appears that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention won't implement any domestic pre-travel testing requirement.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Vaccines will be required internationally

As vaccine rollout ramps up across the nation, the "vaccine passport" concept has been floating around boardrooms and newspapers in recent weeks.

Will you be required to have one? Not if you stay within the country, according to Bastian. “A domestic vaccine passport likely won’t be required... I do however expect one to be required for international travel," he said.

"To force people to get a vaccine to use public transportation gets more complicated," he continued.

As for Delta employees, Bastian said that those flying internationally will likely be required to get the vaccine. He isn't ready to mandate vaccines across the entire workforce, however. (Whereas, United chief executive officer Scott Kirby has committed to implementing a company-wide vaccine requirement.)

Bastian is proud that the airline is hosting Georgia's largest public vaccination clinic at the Delta Flight Musuem.

The future of the mask requirement

Since mid-2020, every major U.S. airline has required passengers to wear face coverings throughout the entire travel journey, from the check-in counter all the way through baggage claim. Then, earlier this year, the Biden administration put the mask mandate into law.

"The government will eventually need to ease up on mask compliance standards. At some point, a mask is a detractor for travel at scale," Bastian admitted.

Once the virus is contained, some people will likely still choose to wear masks. Others, however, will remove the mask once it's no longer a requirement.

Blocked middle seat strategy

There's more to Delta's blocked middle seat strategy than you might think.

For one, it's not necessarily an anti-coronavirus measure. As Bastian has repeated time and again, "our goal is to restore confidence in travel."

The blocked middle seat is just one of the many tools that Delta's using to convince customers to take to the skies. The move is about "comfort" and "space," and it's designed to ease some of the return-to-travel anxiety.

According to Bastian, capping capacity is currently paying off. Delta sees a revenue premium for its commitment to blocking the middle seat.

But, when will the policy end?

"Eventually, we’ll need to sell the middle seat. Right now, demand is quite soft at 35 to 40 percent of our normal revenue base... If consumers tell us that they want those seats to fly with Delta, that'll be the trigger [to end the block]."

Delta's environmental impact

In February 2020, right before the pandemic came stateside, Delta announced that it would pledge $1 billion to become fully carbon neutral by 2030.

After nearly a year into the pandemic, Delta's still committed to its carbon-neutral pledge. "The pledge got cheaper this year since flying levels were much lower than we thought they'd be. For 2020, the cost totaled roughly $25 million, and we're in the process of making the investments as we speak."

At the end of the day, "You can’t have a sustainable business model if you’re not creating a sustainable environment for your customers to feel good about what you sell," Bastian concluded.

Featured image by photo by: Daniel Slim for Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023