Delta Air Lines Bankruptcy Emergence, Part 5: Time for the Big Moment!
Note: Nine years ago today, Delta Air Lines formally emerged from bankruptcy protection; and this article is the fifth of a series of articles which I first wrote nine years ago today.
T he international journalists and I had approximately 15 minutes after the question and answer period by Jim Whitehurst had ended. That gave me just enough time to grab a cookie and a bottle of water that I never would get to finish that day.
With a few minutes to spare, I waited until Jim was finished talking privately to several of the international journalists. I simply wanted to say “hello” again to him and relate to him my story about congratulating him and Jeff Robertson via e-mail, as I did not know if or when I would see him again.
I finally got the chance while walking towards our transportation to the hangar where the main event will commence. As we shook hands, I believe that he did remember me from when he first met me at the Velvet Rope Tour in May 2006. I told him that I was giving him a break from the hard questioning by the international journalists, that I simply wanted to congratulate him, and I then related my story. I think he enjoyed it as he did laugh, but I also realized that he had a lot on his mind, as he was about to be one of the main presenters of the unveiling of the new Delta brand and livery.
I boarded the bus with the other international journalists. The bus ride to the hangar seemed to take forever. Little did I know that while I was on the bus at 1020 hours that morning that Delta Air Lines had officially emerged from bankruptcy.
We finally arrived at the hangar but waited on the bus for approximately 10 minutes. The anticipation was growing. I had no idea what to expect, which will eventually become the recurring theme for me on April 30 and May 1.
We were escorted into the hangar. It was crowded with people. It was hot. It was dark. It was noisy. I was dressed in a suit and tie. These are all conditions I eschew. For some reason, however, my disdain for these conditions was temporarily abated. Rather, a feeling of excitement and anticipation swept through me. I did not realize how lucky I was until I found out that there were people who could not even get into the standing-room-only hangar and had to stand outside.
The international journalists and I meandered, escorted through the crowd to our designated spot all the way on the other side of the hangar behind the velvet rope (is there a theme here?!?) in front of the platform supporting dozens of photographers and their video and still cameras. I have no idea how we sliced through such an enormous crowd of people, estimated to number between 4,500 and 5,000. Even for a huge hangar such as the one we were in, there was very little room to move.
When we were almost there, I was stopped while the people ahead of me kept going. The reason why I was stopped was because a line people, including Jim Whitehurst, Edward Bastian, Jerry Grinstein and their entire entourage, intersected with our group. None of them will remember this, but I greeted them and even shook hands with Jerry, thinking this would be my only opportunity to meet him. I did not realize how wrong I was at that moment. Anyway, the timing of the intersection of me with the main presenters of this event was an incredible coincidence, especially in a massive space such as the hangar that seemed to be filled to capacity. Once the entourage passed through, I made it to our designated spot.
In front of all of us was a massive white “curtain”, divided into sections, concealing the treasured aircraft behind it. This curtain was so huge that one could not take a complete picture of it unless one used what is known as a “fish-eye” lens. On this curtain was three separate areas where a retrospective of Delta Air Lines commercials were viewed to the audience. I did not get his name, but a man on stage in front of the curtains was accomplishing what seemed to be the impossible: pumping up an already-pumped-up crowd.
The spirit that permeated through the crowd was amazing. Photographs and video do not do justice that being there live presented. People from every department of Delta Air Lines, invited guests, and journalists from all over the world were all in this room. The Delta Air Lines employees exhibited a spirit and exuberance that, for the most part, I had not seen in several years.
The ceremonies began at 1100 hours. One would have thought that The Beatles (am I dating myself or what?) had entered the room when Jerry Grinstein was introduced to the podium. He received a resounding and deafening standing ovation from the audience, to which his uninhibited reaction was punching his fist with victory, much as a little boy would do just after he hit the winning home run in a baseball playoff game. Anyone who saw Jerry’s face with his reaction knew that — for that moment — he was the happiest man in the world.
During his short speech at 1121 hours, Jerry announced that at 1020 hours, Delta Air Lines had officially emerged from bankruptcy. The cloak of despair that had overshadowed Delta Air Lines had finally been removed. To say that this was a proud moment for the employees of Delta Air Lines would be an obvious understatement. I was convinced that if there was room in that hangar, all of the Delta Air Lines employees that were present would have been doing cartwheels, judging by their reaction. I was witnessing first-hand the legendary pride for which Delta Air Lines employees were known. It was simply amazing.
When Jerry introduced Ed and Jim to the stage, they said a few words and positioned themselves by a box to which they had “keys” to activate the dropping of the curtain. Just as they were about to “activate the dropping of the curtains”, they stopped and said that they cannot do it without Jerry joining them on that stage. Ed and Jim may know how to run an airline and contribute to its successful emergence from backruptcy, but they definitely cannot act. Sorry, guys, but your “hesitation” to tease the audience was too obvious for me — please do not quit your day jobs. Fortunately, it was not lost on the crowd.
Terri Harris, Brand Council Member, and Tim Mapes, Vice President, Marketing, also presented to the crowd.
The Unveiling of Ship 638
Anyway, the big moment had arrived. The unveiling of the aircraft was executed by dropping the massive curtains in front of a momentarily hushed crowd…
…and there it was: ship 638, formerly a song aircraft, was unveiled in all of its splendor and glory, officially revealed to the world for the first time, adorned in its new livery. The lights under its navy blue belly gleamed with irridescence as the hangar lights shone on select portions on what appeared to be a shiny new aircraft. Many people in the crowd slowly moved toward this new symbol of the Spirit of Delta. Meanwhile, others gathered around the podium, which transformed into a raised island amidst a sea of people on which Jerry, Jim and Ed were still standing, to shake hands with them and get their autographs. Jerry eventually stepped down off of the platform to hold impromptu news conferences for members of the media swarming around him.
People gazed at, talked about, photographed, milled around, and even touched the Boeing 757 aircraft that stood there before them, realizing what a significant moment this was in the history of Delta Air Lines.
I think that C. E. Woolman would have been proud.
The photograph at the top of this article is a bonus photograph which was not included in the original article because the quality of the photograph was so poor due to low light conditions and no tripod — but it is one of the first photographs ever taken of the airplane sporting the new livery of Delta Air Lines. All photographs ©2007 by Brian Cohen.