Delta Airlines vs. Georgia – the next phase in the game

Delta Airlines responded defiantly to the news that the State of Georgia removed a clause from a tax incentive bill that would have given it a break on jet fuel purchases within Georgia. (NOTE – This was not specific to Delta – other airlines would also have benefited from the tax concession; however, Delta had more to gain because its main hub is in Georgia).
Delta also leaked some interesting titbits, the most important one being that a grand total of 13 NRA members had taken advantage of the now-discontinued discount program. If that is the correct number, the program was a waste of money for Delta, even before the public backlash when the existence of the program was discovered. You don’t have to be a math genius to work out that there was no upside to continuing the program.
The decision to strip the fuel concession from the bill was a state-wide political decision. Atlanta is a Democratic city, and rural Georgia is solidly Republican. The decision would therefore have appealed to rural GOP voters as sticking it to the corrupt Dems in Atlanta. All good retail politics in an election season.
The main question is: what next?
Delta is unlikely to leave Atlanta. They just extended for another 20 years with the City to use Hartsfield-Jackson as their man hub. They could leave, but long-term contracts like this one are difficult to get out of. When I visited Nashville in 2002 en route home from ORD to DFW (in the days when I had flight benefits on American Airlines), I found out that American had abandoned Nashville as a hub after 9/11, reducing it to a destination from several other hubs (ORD, DFW and RDU). However, they still had long term leases on close to 20 gates at the airport that they could not get out of. So some of the gates were shuttered, and some of them had been leased to SouthWest Airlines. The AA flights into and out of Nashville were full, but AA was losing money (“loadings are great, but yields are terrible” was the succinct summary of one of the AA gate agent supervisors) because of the combination of high fixed costs they could not get out of, plus competition from SouthWest, who were being subsidized via the cheap sub-leased gates.
So…Delta could leave ATL, but it is unlikely to do so, unless another city comes up with a dizbustingly-enticing tax and/or subsidy package.
What I think is most likely to happen is that the tax concession will be quietly resurrected in another bill, and passed later this year after the fuss has died down. Delta has been a GOP money donor, and the GOP will not be keen to lose donations in the future.
The entire incident is an example of what happens when virtue signalling becomes the main public currency of retail politics. Delta cancelled discounts for NRA members because there was no upside any more, given the backlash after the Parkland school shooting (Virtue Signal #1). The Georgia GOP removed the fuel tax concession from the bill to show that they could punish Delta and energize their base in an election season (Virtue Signal #2). Delta’s CEO informed the public that “their values are not for sale (Virtue Signal #3). If they are smart, the GOP will now repair the damage by quietly re-instating the fuel tax concession.

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