ATLANTA – Delta Air Lines Inc. is studying whether to end discounts for “politically divisive” organizations, after a firestorm over its decision to terminate a deal with the National Rifle Association.
Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian announced the policy review a day after Georgia lawmakers punished Delta by removing a jet-fuel tax exemption from a larger bill. Politicians stripped out the provision after the Atlanta-based carrier eliminated a discount for NRA members attending the group’s annual meeting.
“Our discounted travel benefit for NRA members could be seen as Delta implicitly endorsing the NRA. That is not the case,” Bastian said Friday in a memo to employees. “While Delta’s intent was to remain neutral, some elected officials in Georgia tied our decision to a pending jet-fuel tax exemption, threatening to eliminate it unless we reversed course. Our decision was not made for economic gain and our values are not for sale.”
The move capped a week in which Delta joined other U.S. companies in cutting business ties with the NRA after a shooting last month at a Florida high school in which 17 people were killed. United Continental Holdings Inc. made a similar move, while companies including Symantec Corp., Hertz Global Holdings Inc., Avis Budget Group Inc. and MetLife Inc. also ended relationships with the gun-rights group.
Only 13 people used the NRA discount, a Delta spokesman said. He declined to provide a list of potentially divisive groups with access to discounted fares.
Bastian also said Delta was “proud and honored” to have its headquarters in Atlanta – an apparent response to politicians in other states who this week invited the No. 2 U.S. airline to relocate.
While Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has agreed to sign the tax bill excluding the jet-fuel break, he has vowed to find a “pathway” to introduce the exemption again. Bastian, in the letter to employees, called him “a great friend to Delta.”
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who is running for governor, helped lead the push to remove the benefit.
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