Thursday, April 23, 2009

Weary Traveler: A Historical Note on Delta Song

“…and the wind shall be our words in the world’s greatest song”
Wilbur Wright

Beginning in the late 1990’s airlines began launching side ventures to adhere to changing customer needs. Entire fleets of airlines catering to specific destinations and demographics were launched by the top five airlines, attracting the middle class as the new business class. Northwest launched Sky Bound, American Airlines had Alliance, Continental embarked on Horizon Air (now owned by Alaska Airlines) and most famously, Delta launched Song. Only Jet Blue kept out of the race, instead choosing to attack smaller markets with the same fleet.

In April 1997, John Owen, CEO of Delta Song, unveiled an extensive 3 year plan for Delta, in which a new fleet of aircrafts would be modernized, creating a business class style seating for everyone on board. Song's main goal was to draw in vacationers in the northeastern United States and Florida, taking away JetBlue’s appeal of the cheap vacation flight, and then quickly move into smaller west coast airports, such as Burbank. “We hear your voice, and sing your Song”1. Song's aircraft were fitted with heated leather seats throughout the cabin, and designed by Marc Jacobs. Each passenger had access to free in flight DVD players, programmable MP3 playlists, interactive trivia games, and satellite television provided by DirectTV. Every passenger received a free canned beverage provided by Pepsi, as well as the return of the in-flight snack pack, which was provided by Doll. A series of ‘songs’ gave passengers safety instructions; with Paul McCartney, James Taylor, Ludacris and Seal each lending their vocal talents to a certain flight path. Crew uniforms designed by Kate Spade solidified the appearance that this modern airline was to be taken seriously. Song began service on April 15, 2000, days ahead of the anticipated launch. For the next two years, Song’s 48 Boeing 757’s operated more than 200 flights a day and carried over fifteen million passengers. Unfortunately, with only 198 seats, all priced economy, the operating plan could not be sustained and the planes were refitted to Delta’s standard 288 passenger cabin, which included First Class, Business Class and Economy. The vibrant green planes were slowly repainted and could be seen in Delta’s Orlando hub until the last Song plane was decommissioned in 2005. Shortly after Song’s collapse, Sky Bound and Alliance went under as well. John Owen was hired by Jet Blue in 2003 as their CFO, the sour note in Delta’s Song; however Song’s impact can still be felt. Delta flights now include DirectTV, modern uniforms, and leather seats, although only First Class is able to enjoy the heated cushions.

1. John Owen, NYC press release, April 1997


  1. United is my favorite airline. My only qualm is that the soap smells a little funny.

  2. And the American check-in process is the worst around. United wins, but Delta's ok.