After NRA fight, Delta sidesteps immigration debate

Delta Air Lines will kick in money to help Clayton County Schools, which will lose millions in jet fuel tax collections at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on July 1. JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM
Delta Air Lines will kick in money to help Clayton County Schools, which will lose millions in jet fuel tax collections at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on July 1. JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

‘We’re not looking to become politicians’

Delta Air Lines sidestepped what could have been another testy political debate on Wednesday.

As four major competitors - America, Frontier, Southwest and United - declared they would refuse to fly immigrant children separated from their parents at the U.S. border, the Atlanta-based company took refuge in President Donald Trump’s timely reversal of his policy.

“Recent reports of families being separated are disheartening and do not align with Delta’s core values," the airline said. "We applaud the administration’s executive order resolving the issue of separating children from their families at the U.S. border.”

Delta's more cautious approach comes from experience. The airline provoked a backlash from Georgia lawmakers after cutting business ties with the National Rifle Association. Soon, a tax break on jet fuel designed to help the airline save $40 million annually was kaput.

Hours before Trump's order was signed, chief executive Ed Bastian was at a "fireside chat" event with Virgin Group founder Richard Branson. He said the airline has flown a "very limited" number of children back to their homes to reunite with families. But he was wary of plunging deeper into the debate.

ExploreOur AJC colleague Kelly Yamanouchi has more:

Bastian said the airline’s customers “want to know where we stand on some of the important issues of the day. We have an opportunity to make a difference.”

“When you see something that runs against, that runs counter to your values, you’re obliged to speak on it,” he said.

“Within the populist movement, I think people are scared,” Bastian said. “Our business is bringing the world together.... When you see the world moving against that, it’s our call to action to jump in.”

But, he added: “You want to be careful. We’re not looking to become politicians.” 

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