By Kelly Yamanouchi, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Troy Warren for CNT #Business
In a bid to raise its stature as a global carrier by becoming a major Olympic sponsor, Delta Air Lines on Friday unveiled a plane marking its new role as the official airline of Team USA.
The new Airbus A330-900 shown off at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is emblazoned with “TEAM USA” in blue letters on the sides of the fuselage.
Atlanta-based Delta supplanted rival United Airlines, which was Team USA’s official airline for about 40 years.
Delta will fly U.S. athletes to the Olympics for the next eight years — to Beijing in 2022, Paris in 2024, Milan in 2026 and Los Angeles in 2028 — in a lead-up to its sponsorship of the LA28 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Combined, Delta’s Olympics sponsorships have been valued at $400 million.
The new Team USA and LA28 sponsorships are massive investments that Delta executives hope will buttress the image they’ve sought to cultivate of an airline that connects the world. Los Angeles is also a key hub and competitive market for Delta, where it hopes to stand out against rival carriers.
“We’ll be carrying Team USA for at least the next decade, hopefully many decades to come,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian. The airline in the past sponsored the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 and in Salt Lake City in 2002, both cities where it has major hubs.
Delta unveiled the special paint job for the Team USA plane at an event Friday morning hosted by Olympians Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir, and featuring Delta’s “athlete ambassadors” and Olympians.
Hundreds of Delta employees gathered in a hangar at Delta’s Atlanta hub at Hartsfield-Jackson for the event, which aired live on The Today Show on NBC — the network that broadcasts the Olympics. A key benefit for Delta from the sponsorship deal is access to advertising tied to the Olympic and Paralympic Games on NBC.
The Delta event comes after the White House earlier this month announced a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, citing China’s “egregious human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang,” where the treatment of Uyghurs has prompted U.S. sanctions. U.S. athletes will still compete, but the move means Biden will not send the customary delegation of dignitaries.
Delta chief marketing & communications officer Tim Mapes said he doesn’t see the diplomatic boycott affecting the reach of the Beijing Olympics. “Our interest is in the athletes,” he said.
The Olympic jet, one of 37 A330-900s the airline is gradually adding to its fleet, will begin flying Dec. 18 on international routes.
Due to the COVID- 19 pandemic and restrictions on travel to China, Delta isn’t operating its regular flights to the country. As a result, the airline will operate charter flights from Los Angeles to Beijing starting in late January to take Team USA athletes to the Olympics.
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