Delta Air Lines will increase its seat capacity to the Commonwealth this summer by adding four new flights from key markets in Japan, according to Asia Pacific managing director Jeff Bernier.
Speaking before members of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce and Marianas Visitors Authority during a special luncheon meeting yesterday at Pacific Islands Club, Bernier said that Delta will increase its 14 weekly services between Tokyo and the CNMI last summer to 18 weekly flights this summer.
The four new flights translate to almost 800 additional seats from the Japan market, he said.
Bernier said that Delta's current loads, depending on season, range between 75 and 80 percent each month.
Besides the increased capacity to Saipan, Bernier also reaffirmed the company's commitment to continue flying to the CNMI, which it has been serving for 20 years now.
“We've been here for 20 years and we don't have plans to go anywhere because we continuously receive great support from all of you and we're asking that continuous support,” he told the crowd.
Delta Air Lines provides the CNMI close to 130,000 seats yearly between Saipan and Japan.
“We would like to reiterate that Delta Air Lines is part of the CNMI. We do take part in your activities. We are socially responsible and we would like to continue working with you to figure out how we can further support and make CNMI a destination of choice for our travelers,” said Bernier, adding that the company has also established a strong local community involvement and sales initiatives to develop tourism demand for Saipan.
With the Asia Pacific region among the fastest growing tourism markets, Delta believes that the company is on the right track.
Besides Japan, Bernier sees future growth in the Chinese and Southeast Asian markets. This means, he said, that Delta is positioned to capture this growth going forward. He said the airline has over 60 years of significant presence in the region and has over 2,300 Asia-based employees. The momentum, he said, is in Delta's favor.
To improve the “overall customer experience” of its travelers, Bernier disclosed that Delta is investing over $3 billion in product improvements.
These include installation of full flatbed seats in BusinessElite on all international aircraft, expected to be completed in the spring of 2014. The airline, he said, is also installing a new comfort seating for the economy class, among other new investments.
“What's the point we want to stress here? We are embarking on improving overall customer experience from start to finish because in Delta, we have a model of 'keep climbing' and continuous improvement,” he said.
In terms of the airline's fiscal state, Bernier described the company's financial condition as fiscally sound, is paying down its debts, and has a positive cash flow. He also cited the strong partnership it has and continues to develop with partners around the globe.
Three years ago, Delta merged with Northwest Airlines. During this period, Bernier said the merger had some negative impact but he quickly added that Delta has returned to profitability. In fact, he said, its overall operating margin is 6.4 percent in 2011, the highest margin for airlines in the United States.
During the question-and-answer section of the meeting, Bernier was asked if the company has plans to reduce ticket costs. He said this is always part of the company's evaluation. However, he remained noncommittal, saying the airline has to ensure that its plans are aligned with its goal of continued and long-term commitment to the market.
There are only four airlines flying to the CNMI at the moment: Asiana Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Cape Air, and Sichuan Airlines.