I’m not going to impugn the motives of Delta CEO Ed Bastian. But there is simply no denying how incredibly costly his recent family vacation turned out to be.
Bastian took some some heat (and not just from me) for refusing to modify his travel plans to meet with President Trump and other airline CEOs in the White House. The meeting topic was Qatar Airways and Air Italy, two carriers Bastian has decried for years.
But when he finally had the chance to address the issue with the U.S. President and confront the CEO of Qatar Airways, he was a no show.
For several days, Delta refused to comment further on the CEO’s absence beyond stating that he was traveling. But as Gary Leff (in his new Forbes column) reports, Bastian has now clarified the issue.
In Bastian’s Own Words
In a video to employees, Bastian states that he was on an international family vacation.
Unfortunately that meeting was set up at the very last minute as I was heading out of the country with my family on a long scheduled one week vacation that would have caused me to cancel the vacation with my family. My family makes a lot of sacrifices with Delta. I ask them to do a lot of things. I wasn’t about ready to ask them to cancel a long-scheduled vacation.
Fine. I just made the decision to fly 16 hours in economy class instead of business class for my family. It made business sense to fly home on a much different routing, but life is not just about business.
I get that Bastian works hard all year, his family is also busy, and this trip was likely very carefully planned. Perhaps they went to a nice hotel or home whose reservation could not easily be moved. Maybe there were reservations at Michelin-starred restaurants that could not be rebooked.
With a salary of $15MN last year, Bastian has all the money he ever needs. But he doesn’t have unlimited time…time once again becomes a precious commodity.
But then Bastian downplayed the importance of the meeting, telling employees it “was not about the whole Middle Eastern issue, it was really very limited to Qatar and the Air Italy situation.” Well, yes, but that is exactly the issue that he has consistently maintained represents an existential threat to the U.S. airline industry. That truly undermines his argument.
Perhaps Trump still would have decided against the U.S. carrier had Bastian been there. Perhaps his absence was a strategic ploy for a second meeting with the “chief spokesperson” at the table for the U.S. side. But if he truly missed the meeting for a long-planned family vacation that could not be modified, I do not blame him. Still, we cannot deny what an expensive vacation this truly was, at least in terms of optics. You can read Bastian’s full message here.