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Delta Rethinks Deals for Any 'Divisive' Group Amid NRA Fray

Published on .

Credit: Mike Kane/Bloomberg

Delta Air Lines is studying whether to end discounts for "politically divisive" organizations, after a firestorm over its decision to terminate a deal with the National Rifle Association.

CEO Ed Bastian announced the policy review a day after Georgia lawmakers punished Delta by removing a jet-fuel tax exemption from a larger bill. Politicians stripped out the provision after the Atlanta-based carrier eliminated a discount for NRA members attending the group's annual meeting.

"Our discounted travel benefit for NRA members could be seen as Delta implicitly endorsing the NRA. That is not the case," Bastian said Friday in a memo to employees. "While Delta's intent was to remain neutral, some elected officials in Georgia tied our decision to a pending jet-fuel tax exemption, threatening to eliminate it unless we reversed course. Our decision was not made for economic gain and our values are not for sale."

The move capped a week in which Delta joined other U.S. companies in cutting business ties with the NRA after a shooting last month at a Florida high school, in which 17 people were killed. United Continental Holdings made a similar move, while companies including Symantec, Hertz Global, Avis Budget Group and MetLife also ended relationships with the gun-rights group.

Atlanta headquarters

Only 13 people used the NRA discount, a Delta spokesman said. He declined to provide a list of potentially divisive groups with access to discounted fares.

Bastian also said Delta was "proud and honored" to have its headquarters in Atlanta, an apparent response to politicians in other states who this week invited the No. 2 U.S. airline to relocate.

While Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has agreed to sign the tax bill excluding the jet-fuel break, he has vowed to find a "pathway" to introduce the exemption again. Bastian, in the letter to employees, called him "a great friend to Delta."

The exemption had been expected to save airlines about $40 million, with Delta seeing the largest benefit as the state's dominant carrier. That's a small cost for the nation's second-largest carrier, which paid $5.7 billion for jet fuel and related taxes last year and had revenue of more than $41 billion.

Delta controls 73 percent of the market at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, while Southwest Airlines Co. has 11 percent. No other carrier has more than 5 percent of the airport's passengers, according to the U.S. Transportation Department.

Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, a Republican running for governor, helped lead the push to remove the benefit.

-- Bloomberg News

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