Commitment to corporate social responsibility or cynical marketing ploy? That's the question Seattle's LGBT community is asking as Delta Air Lines assumes sponsorship of one of America's largest pride parades.
Seattle, Washington, is known as one of the most gay friendly cities in the United States – if not THE most gay friendly city in the United States.
But the skies over Seattle are anything BUT friendly as Delta Air Lines takes its territorial battle for the buck from the runways to the streets.
Alaska Airlines, the hometown carrier, has long been a supporter of the LGBT community.
Gay and lesbian employees of the airline have marched in Seattle’s pride parades proudly identifying themselves as Alaska Airlines employees for at least 10 years.
Some years LGBT employees marched wearing flight attendants uniforms, and other years they marched wearing pilot's hats.
Back into the Closet?
But it looks like those LGBT employees will have to leave their Alaska Airlines uniforms and hats in the closet this year!
And anything else that identifies them as working for an airline - unless that airline is Delta.
Delta jumped in at the last minute as a sponsor of the Seattle Pride Parade, I've been told. And not everyone is happy about it.
As part of a three-year contract with parade organizers, the airline stipulates that employees of no other airline can march in the parade wearing ANY kind of identification as to who their employer is.
The Atlanta-based airline went so far as the dictate that NO OTHER AIRLINE could even be represented in the parade. Not even with floats? Or marching bands? Or baton twirlers?
The Pride Committee has announced it was all just a "miscommunication", but the President, a paid position, has stepped down from the committee.
Delta Air Lines is the second largest airline in the United States in terms of passengers flown, against Alaska Airlines, which comes in seventh place.
At Seattle/Tacoma International Airport, however, Alaska Airlines has long been the dominant carrier.
In 2013, Seattle was just another city on Delta Air Lines' route map. It was hardly a blip on the airline's radar screen.
The carrier operated only 40 daily flight out of Seattle.
Then the airline announced plans to turn Seattle into a hub in a bid to spread its wings more widely across the lucrative Asian-US market.
Seattle makes a good transit point because it is closer to Asia than either San Francisco or Los Angeles.
Delta has added more than 100 flights to its Seattle schedule since it announced plans to expand its presence at Seattle Airport.
If the airline gets approval to add 30 more gates at the airport, its capacity would expand to 240 daily departures, putting it within striking range of Alaska, which currently operates about 250 daily departures from the airport.
Corporate Social Responsibility?
Seattle is one of nine cities in the United States and Canada whose pride parades are being sponsored by Delta.
Other cities include Detroit, Michigan; Indianapolis, Indiana; Los Angeles, California; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Nashville, Tennessee; New York, New York; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Toronto, Ontario.
It would be interesting to know if similar demands were made in these other cities (and if they were met).
As part of the airline’s commitment to the LGBT community, it is offering discounts to passengers flying First Class or Delta Comfort + (a.k.a. “Business Class”) from selected cities to festival destinations - presumably cities in which it is sponsoring parades and/or celebrations.
On the surface, Delta's decision to sponsor Seattle's gay parade seems designed to win the hearts and minds of city’s LGBT community.
There is a difference between corporate social responsibility (CSR) and marketing. This sounds more like a cynical marketing ploy than a genuine commitment to CSR, many members of the LGBT community say.
Discounted First and Business Class tickets? Great! I'm SURE there will be many takers!
But if the airline wanted to demonstrate a genuine commitment to the LGBT community, it would have thrown in a few discounted tickets to those who have difficulty coming up with enough money to fly Cattle Class - let alone Business Class or First Class.
And yet ... And yet ...
Who would have thought a few decades ago that major American corporations would one day be in dog fights over who got to sponsor gay rights marches?
It wasn't even on the radar screen.
Cause for Celebration?
So on many levels this IS cause for celebration - from a gay rights point of view. It means a long marginalized community is entering the mainstream. A protest march has become a parade.
But that doesn't let Delta Air Lines off the hook. This is about something bigger happening in American society that has NOTHING to do with Delta.
The airline is simply flying piggy back.
This has EVERYTHING to do with marketing - and NOTHING to do with CSR. Ironically, good CSR is frequently the best marketing.
Delta has yet to learn that.