Delta puts own stamp on ASA; Takeover of ground operations aimed at reducing lost bags and solving other problems.

Carrier absorbs 1,230 ASA employees into its fold


The airline also plans to spend up to $35 million on jetways that will accommodate the smaller jets on Concourses C and D of the Atlanta airport.

It makes a lot of sense for Delta to upgrade its feeder carriers' product, since its post-bankruptcy recovery plan is aimed at wooing lucrative business and international customers, said William Bogner, a management sciences professor at Georgia State University's business school. For many of Delta's corporate customers in smaller cities, the first and last flights are typically on a regional jet.

"It's the weak link in the chain," he said. "If that's a lousy experience, then people are going to find another way out of . . . Peoria than Delta."

Mike Boyd, a veteran industry consultant who has sometimes criticized ASA over its service to smaller cities, said he believes tighter supervision and better training and pay under Delta will bring improvement.

"There's probably dancing in the streets in a lot of communities around Atlanta," he said. "Delta's management understands customer service."

Indeed, Delta's on-time ranking has climbed significantly in monthly government reports. ASA and Delta's regional carrier subsidiary Comair have often ranked near the bottom for late flights and lost luggage.

Late last year, ASA began a campaign to improve its performance by adding workers, buying more equipment and changing how it handles bags and services its aircraft. The changes were apparently beginning to pay off: ASA, previously often dead last out of 20 carriers, was in 16th place in the U.S. Department of Transportations on-time ranking for April, and 16th in terms of baggage complaints.

LaBrecque said ASA's climb in the numbers is because its employees are "out there busting their humps to get it done . . . We're in the top echelon of the regionals right now."

The improvements weren't fast enough for Delta, however, which announced in March that it was taking over ASA's ground-handling operations. Industry insiders say other major airlines also have recently been taking over ground operations from contract carriers at key airports, including Continental at its hub in Houston, and United at its Chicago hub.

LaBrecque is philosophical about Delta's move. "If this is the next step in the evolution, then we're OK with this process," he said. "We're willing to do what it takes to be Delta's choice."

Boyd said he sees no downside in Delta's decision to take over ASA's ground-handling staff. "The big thing is ASA employees get Delta management and maybe a bump in pay, and small communities no longer have to fear Concourse C."

REPAIR WORK

Delta's move to take on ASA's ground workers in Atlanta is the latest effort to fix chronic on-time and baggage handling problems at the contract carrier.

ON-TIME ARRIVALS

For 12 months ending April 2007:

...........On-time ........Industry

.........arrival rate......rank

Delta......76.4% ...........5

AirTran....75.1% ...........7

Comair ....68.1% ..........18

ASA........64.0% ..........19

Industry

average....73.9%

BAGGAGE COMPLAINTS

Complaints per 1,000 passengers, April 2007

...........Baggage ........Industry

...........complaints......rank

AirTran.....3.43.............2

Delta.......6.15............11

ASA.........8.27............16

Comair ....11.99 ...........19

Industry

average ....6.32

Note: Rank is out of 19 carriers for on-time, 20 for baggage handling. Source: U.S. Department of Transportation

ON THE MEND

Delta's takeover of ASA's Atlanta ground workers is the latest bid to fix service woes. Here's what's changing:

* Delta hired 1,230 ASA gate agents, rampers and other airport employees.

* Delta gets new flexibility to park the jets of ASA and other regional carriers at open gates at the airport, which it hopes will boost on-time rates.

* Delta plans to extend several initiatives started by its mainline operation, including extra training and refurbishment and regular deep cleaning of regional jet interiors.

* Delta plans to spend roughly $35 million to install jetways on the airport's C and D concourses for regional jets in 2008 and 2009. Currently, passengers walk across the tarmac to board the smaller jets.

ASA'S ROUGH RIDE

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