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Delta Air Sees Detroit Differently

For Delta/Northwest passengers, connections occur in a gleaming new $1.2 billion, 122-gate terminal that opened in 2002, replacing an ancient terminal. Passengers on other airlines use a second new terminal that opened last year. An airport authority, affiliated with Wayne County, presides.

Pre-merger, Northwest dominated the airport. It had about 500 daily departures and a workforce of 2,000 customer service agents and ground service workers, while Delta had 14 daily departures to its hubs and a workforce of about 200. Delta's total Michigan employment, including crew bases, totals about 8,000.

Major transitional events occurred at the end of March. First, Northwest employees got new uniforms at an event staged by station manager Andy Zarras, a 25-year Northwest employee who is now a vice president of customer service for Delta. It included hot dogs, peanuts and an appearance by former Detroit Tigers player Gates Brown. The groundwork was laid in the fall, when workers selected their new uniforms at a fashion show: Employees modeled new styles; designer Richard Tyler offered consultations; and hair stylists, beauticians and tailors provided services.

On March 30th, the airport was transformed. Delta's logo, stylistic enhancements and navy blue color scheme took over, replacing Northwest red. "If you came in at 9 p.m. it was Northwest as far as you could see, red everywhere," Zarras says. "When the last flights left, the contractors came in."

Gates got new signage saying "Delta KLM AirFrance." Between the stanchions, blue ribbons replaced Northwest's black ribbons. Priority boarding lanes, formerly "Northwest Elite," were rechristened "Delta Breezeway." Screens on the airport kiosks changed, and the four World Clubs were rechristened as Sky Clubs.

Zarras describes the task of integrating the airport workforces using a family analogy. "Northwest in Detroit was like a big ethnic family, with brothers, sisters, cousins, etc.," he says. "I met with the pre-merger Delta people to welcome them to the Northwest family. I told them 'You come from a small family. You have one brother, one or two cousins. You just married into a very large family.' "

Delta shares closed down 69 cents, or 11%, to $5.56 on Wednesday.

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