*Northwest brand to phase out by end of 2010
*Wi-Fi expanding to more planes
By Karen Jacobs
ATLANTA, March 26 (Reuters) - Delta Air Lines Inc (DAL.N) is expanding in-flight wireless Internet access and looking to bring more benefits to frequent flyers as it completes the integration of Northwest Airlines.
Tim Mapes, senior vice president of marketing, said the carrier’s advertising will assert the global reach of Delta more boldly as the Northwest name is phased out by the end of 2010.
“This is a brand with very high levels of awareness but still with an opportunity to be seen as even more international,” he told Reuters on Thursday.
Atlanta-based Delta became the world’s largest airline when it merged with Minneapolis-based Northwest in October.
As of next week, the make-over of the combined company will become more evident to consumers as Northwest flight attendants, airport service agents and pilots wear Delta uniforms, and airport gates in Detroit, Minneapolis, Tokyo and other cities shed their Northwest signage.
Additionally, Northwest and Delta airport lounges will be branded Delta SkyClubs, and passengers on Northwest flights will be able to read a newly redesigned Delta Sky magazine.
“By the end of next year, what you’ve known as Northwest will be entirely Delta,” Mapes said.
He declined to detail marketing spending but said Delta was intent on expanding services even as the recession dents consumer and business spending on travel.
“I think (Delta) is doing all the right things to integrate two very different brands,” said Ken Bernhardt, a marketing professor at Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business. “It’s not easy and it’s not inexpensive.”
In its latest annual report filed earlier this month, Delta said it expected one-time costs of about $500 million to meld the two airlines, but added the merger would generate about $2 billion in annual revenue and cost synergies by 2012.
Wi-Fi will be installed on Delta-branded U.S. aircraft except regional jets by late this year, and will be expanded to Northwest domestic planes next year, Mapes said.
The Delta SkyMiles and Northwest WorldPerks frequent-flier programs will be consolidated by the end of this year. About 74 million people will be members of the combined SkyMiles program. Award and tier levels are currently being reviewed, and changes will likely be unveiled in the fall, Mapes said. (Reporting by Karen Jacobs; editing by Carol Bishopric)