To Be There. . . Or Not To Be There. That Is The Question.

by Henry Harteveldt.

What does it say when an airline CEO whose stock is being re-listed opens that stock exchange remotely, rather than in person? On Wednesday May 3, Delta Air Lines, which emerged from bankruptcy April 30, began trading its newly listed stock on the New York Stock Exchange – the same exchange it traded on prior to filing bankruptcy more than 18 months ago. Rather than flying to New York to ring the ceremonial opening bell, Gerry Grinstein, the airline’s CEO, opened the exchange remotely form the Atlanta airport. Mr. Grinstein is scheduled to ring the closing bell in New York today.

It’s great that Mr. Grinstein will ring the closing bell in person. However, as an analyst who focuses on how technology affects travel industry eBusiness, product and channel management I have to wonder about the message his remote ringing of the opening bell sends. Think about it: the CEO of one of the world’s largest airlines sends a message that technology provides an effective way for business people to do business remotely – the very point Connie made in her post about the travails of business travel a few weeks ago. I suspect neither Mr. Grinstein nor Delta’s Corporate Communications team will agree with this observation, and I suspect that I’ll be stuck in middle seats for this post. No doubt, they’ll say Mr. Grinstein felt it was important for him to be with Delta employees and customers at what is arguably an auspicious moment for the airline. Or that he had important meetings in Atlanta. To which I say – phooey. Delta could have negotiated with the NYSE to invite a small number of employees, customers, and travel agents to join him. And I am certain Mr. Grinstein can have meetings rescheduled as necessary, or choose to hold them in New York (who knows, maybe Delta would have sold some extra tickets). But precisely because it is practical for technology to provide an acceptable proxy for in-person meetings, which could reduce demand for business travel, it’s critical that airline execs and managers constantly do everything they can to remind consumers, in both obvious and non-obvious ways, that nothing is better than meetings held in person.

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