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Partner Perspective Interview: Jeff Lobl of Delta Air Lines

The following Partner Perspective interview is part of a series of virtual discussions hosted by Sabre’s Emma Wilson, VP Marketing, on the topic of Distribution Dynamics. Together with industry leaders and valued partners across airlines, agencies, and travel buyers, we explore the learnings and evolving strategies that have emerged from unprecedented conditions, and how those will shape the future of travel retailing. ‘I’ve been in the industry for 24 years and I thought I had seen it all—and clearly I had not.” – Jeff Lobl, Managing Director of Global Distribution Strategy at Delta Air Lines. Emma Wilson sat down with Jeff Lobl of Delta to discuss the present landscape, Delta’s steadfast core philosophy, and how they’re thinking about the future.

Watch the video below to hear their conversation or read on for the highlights.

Interview Highlights

Emma Wilson: The recent earnings call discussed the severe effects of the pandemic on Delta. Can you talk a bit about how this has impacted your business strategy? Jeff Lobl: It’s been a major pivot here. We’re spending a lot of time reassuring customers about the safety and security of air travel, which is not something we anticipated being our top priority, but it certainly is. We’ve partnered with the Mayo Clinic to have all Delta employees tested for COVID-19 and with Lysol to get state-of-the-art access to surface cleansers and make sure we can make aircraft and airports as safe as we possibly can. We’re very strict on our mask policy and we’ve also re-committed to our middle seat policy, keeping those seats open, giving [customers] extra space and keeping them comfortable on board. We actually started a global cleanliness organization in Delta and we’re coming up with new strategies all the time. EW: And how about distribution specifically? JL: When it comes to distribution, we’ve had to pivot our strategy. Before COVID, we had a two-track strategy going. The first was to elevate the existing experience, which involved working with existing partners and better display merchandise and make our current products available to customers. At the same time, we were working on NDC development to bring enhanced content into the ecosystem. Because of the COVID situation, and given the amount of development resources, and potential disruption on the NDC side, we are pausing on that for the time being. We’re doubling down on working within the existing ecosystem—and doing it better in the infrastructure we currently have. There’s a lot of opportunity there that we’re working hard to capture. EW: You have been an influential voice in helping to re-shape the airline distribution landscape to ensure customers have a consistent quality of shopping experience, no matter where they choose to buy. Has the current environment impacted your views on where content is made available through some or all channels? JL: For us, bringing all our content to all of our channels is really a core philosophy. The beauty of core philosophies is that they don’t shift with changes in the environment, even when those changes are dramatic. We are still committed to all products in all channels and giving customers the ability to find Delta wherever they’re looking for us. It’s a core principle that will go beyond any changes in the environment. EW: On your recent earnings call, one analyst asked about plans to reposition the Delta network to be more leisure-focused, maybe lower cost, and Ed Bastian responded saying that Delta is and will remain a business-oriented, premium-oriented airline. JL: We believe that product choice and understanding the differences between products and between carriers is going to be even more important coming out of COVID than it was on the way into COVID. We certainly will continue, as Ed pointed out, to be focused on the premium customer, the corporate traveler, and providing the best experience and choice that we possibly can. But even as we think of the world in a traditional view—business and leisure—we also think of the agency community in terms of the innovators and the commoditizers. Whether you’re in the business side or the leisure side, there’s a lot of innovation going on. EW: What kind of innovation? JL: Even amid COVID, we’re seeing a lot of really encouraging signs of agencies investing in bringing better product choice to customers. We’re seeing that particularly in the leisure side. There’s going to be some exciting enhancements coming through with the Next Generation Storefront initiative, and a lot of corporate agencies that want to do that as well. Some of them are dependent on their corporate booking tools to bring that forward, which is another area of opportunity for us. EW: How does this influence how you’re thinking about the partnership with agencies? JL: As we think about how to do a better job of rewarding the innovators, it’s given us a chance to look at the ecosystem itself and the commercial model that exists within that ecosystem where opportunities have emerged. It’s a commoditized structure that we have in our commercial models right now, and it doesn’t give what we believe is enough of a reward to the innovators. We’re working hard to get that reoriented, so that the people out there who are trying to do a better job and bring better choice to customers have a reason and a reward for doing so. Other parties, not part of that commercial model at all, have an important role to play and should be included in that, too. I want to thank the entire Sabre team for your partnership on this initiative. I think we all see opportunities here to evolve the model more towards where the market is evolving. There’s a real chance for Delta and Sabre to lead the industry into a better way of doing things. We’re very thankful for the partnership and the opportunity it’s created. EW: Thank you, Jeff

Special thanks to Jeff Lobl for spending time discussing Distribution Dynamics with us.

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