Skip to content
Vol. 11, No. 4: Winter 2005

From Smiles to Miles: Delta Air Lines Flight Attendants and Southern Hospitality

by Drew Whitelegg

“In 1965 Braniff introduced the ‘air strip,’ in which a flight attendant disrobed bit-by-bit during the flight. Delta preferred coquetry to crudity.”

Delta Air Lines played an important role in the development of the modern South, and for much of the airline’s history, a strong regional identity was the foundation of its corporate image. “Born and bred in the South,” Delta “best knows the South’s needs,” claimed the Selma Times-Journal in 1955. From its founding in 1940 into the next century, concludes one airline historian, “Delta . . . garnered the reputation of being a service-oriented Southern airline with all the graciousness the term ‘southern hospitality’ implies.” The “Delta Spirit,” the airline’s brand of southern hospitality, became an effective marketing tool throughout the airline’s postwar expansion and the foundation for Delta’s workplace culture. With its “nice guy” family image, Delta fostered labor relations that were the envy of strike-ridden rivals such as Eastern. In 1982 workers registered their appreciation by buying the airline’s first Boeing 767, raising $30 million among themselves and presenting the aircraft, appropriately named The Spirit of Delta, to the company. The aircraft is still in regular service.

This article appears as an abstract above, the complete article can be accessed in Project Muse
Subscribe today!

One South, a world of stories. Delivered in four print issues a year.