Delta Air Lines is now the No. 5 e-commerce retailer behind Amazon, Walmart, eBay and Apple, the carrier reported Wednesday.
"Delta is one of the leading brands, one of the leading consumer brands, in our country," chief executive Ed Bastian said.
Bastian spoke at the Morgan Stanley Global Consumer & Retail Conference, where he shared that high-income travelers account for 75% of spending on air travel, and leisure travel is the highest-priority purchase for them. "High-income" is defined as the top 40% of U.S. incomes at more than $100,000.
That bodes well for Atlanta-based Delta, the dominant carrier at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, which remains focused on attracting "premium leisure" travelers willing to pay up for amenities, more comfortable seats and international jaunts.
Even as business travel hasn't fully returned to pre-pandemic levels, many of the same travelers are flying Delta. "If you think about who's seated in our cabins, it's the same person but for different reasons," he said.
Bastian views front cabins, the ones with premium seats, as profit leaders. Even hybrid work schedules help as consumers combine working remotely with longer weekend getaways.
He foresees strong demand ahead even as some domestic budget carriers prepare for consumers cutting back or opting for cushier options.
Executives of Minneapolis-based leisure carrier Sun Country Airlines, which experienced all-time high passenger traffic the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, also expect strong demand in the coming months as budget rivals like Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines signal trouble ahead. Demand is typically higher for Sun Country's flights during winter and spring break holidays when Minnesotans seek refuge from cold and snow.
Meanwhile, Delta on Wednesday reaffirmed its fourth-quarter guidance of revenue rising 9% to 12% and for earnings per share to increase $1.05 to $1.30 from the year-ago period.
Delta in October announced a $1.1 billion profit for its most recent quarter ending in September, a 59% jump from the same period a year ago.
Not all has been rosy for Delta. The airline angered many of its loyal customers earlier this year after announcing an overhaul of its SkyMiles rewards program. The changes would have made it harder to achieve elite airline status and to access Delta's Sky Club airport lounges. Bastian said Delta went too far and the carrier later scaled back the degree of changes.
The Thanksgiving travel period then brought some welcome good news. Bastian noted that Delta had fewer than 20 cancellations of about 50,000 flights during that 10-day travel period, which included a record day for Transportation Security Administration screenings.
If Delta had more capacity, the airline would fly more to keep up with demand, Bastian said. "Our competition, fortunately, they're all looking at us."