Delta CEO: Taking a stand has 'become part of the job'

Delta CEO Ed Bastian at Skift Global Forum 2019 in New York City.

Companies are now compelled to take a stance on social issues, as it’s become “part of the job,” Delta Air Lines (DAL) CEO Ed Bastian said.

“For one of the first times, CEOs [are] a voice of leadership authenticity in our country and in our world, higher than politicians… people are looking to corporate America,” Bastian told the audience Wednesday at the Skift Global Forum in New York.

“So we have to have a voice,” he continued. “Our people, our customers, our employees must know what we stand for ... and so as a result of that, is it's become part of the job, and I don't make decisions lightly.”

Taking on gun violence

Bastian’s comments come shortly after corporate America took a stand on gun violence following a deadly mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas. The retailer itself (WMT) took action in September and ended sales of certain weapons.

Soon after, American companies also chimed into the conversation, urging the U.S. government to act as well.

“Doing nothing about America’s gun violence crisis is simply unacceptable and it is time to stand with the American public on gun safety,” executives from nearly 150 companies urged.

Bastian added that Delta also responded to the issue of gun safety, noting the airline’s move in March of last year.

After the shooting of 17 people in a high school in Parkland, Florida, Delta announced it would stop discounted rates for members of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

“There's no reason we should be at a discount for the NRA,” Bastian explained. “It was something that we wanted. So we removed the discount ... but that was very clear.”

Sitting in the main cabin

Bastian acknowledged there’s no focus group that could give a more accurate reading on the company’s performance than flying in Delta’s main cabin when he travels.

“Sitting upfront is boring,” Bastian said

While his presence in the main cabin often illicits quizzical stares and even requests for selfies from other passengers, the experience allows him to “observe what’s going on,” he said.

And when the CEO flies on a Delta aircraft, it’s understood that he’s not paying for his seat.

“I think it sends a signal to customers that the best seating on the plane should go to the best customers,” he said.

Aarthi is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.

Stephanie is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.

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