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Flying Toward a Brighter Future

Delta Air Line Image The 80,000 employees and 160 million customers of Delta Air Lines are always on the go, moving around the globe at record speed. Yet, in 2013, this diverse group of millions of people, with leadership from Delta executives like Gil West, found time to join forces to raise more than $1 million for the American Cancer Society.

As a corporate partner with the American Cancer Society, Delta has long been committed to raising money to support cancer research and prevention efforts, says West, senior vice president of airport customer service and technical operations at Delta. Employees and customers worldwide participate in competitive fundraising events that build teamwork, generate enthusiasm, and inspire everyone at every level at the company to work toward a world with less cancer and more birthdays.

“The Delta family is culturally wired to help. The American Cancer Society is a great cause because we are all affected by cancer,” says West, whose grandfather, a key mentor in his life, lost his battle with cancer. “At Delta, we want to be a part of finding cures for cancer, and our employees have to be a part of this. We need their input and their involvement. Our partnership with the American Cancer Society is just another example of a great way to build teamwork.”

Delta’s energetic efforts toward raising funds and awareness have made the Atlanta-based, global company one of the American Cancer Society’s most important partners. In 2012, Delta received the organization’s Distinguished Corporate Achievement award for raising more than $700,000. In 2013, to support and celebrate the American Cancer Society’s 100th birthday and its commitment to finishing the fight against cancer, Delta ramped up its involvement to new heights.

On May 2, 2013, Delta’s Day of Hope took off, with Relay for Life walks taking place inside airport terminals in more than 70 cities that Delta serves around the world. Local Delta employees and customers in cities like Nagoya, Japan; Madrid, Spain; Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; Seattle; Tokyo, Japan; and Vancouver, British Columbia participated, raising nearly $600,000. The company is committed to continuing these efforts in 2014. “It is important to have a personal impact in the fight against cancer, and to help find cures,” says West. “How can we contribute to the communities that we all work and live in? There is no better cause because cancer is literally a life or death battle. You can rally people around it.”

The day after the airport Relay events were held worldwide, the company’s employees back at Delta’s headquarters in Atlanta held another creative fundraising and team-building event, the Jet Drag. The Jet Drag involved teams of Delta employees worldwide, raising at least $1,000 each to compete against each other in dragging a Boeing 757 airplane approximately 100 feet across the tarmac. Even Delta CEO Richard Anderson helped pull a plane.

“We had about a dozen people working together, everyone pulling the plane with these ropes,” says West. A laser clock timed the teams’ efforts down to a 100th of a second. Delta’s ramp employees, who lift passenger luggage all day long, were the mightiest contestants, but West’s team had a solid showing. “People here at Delta are competitive by nature, but we are supportive of each other,” says West. “Still, the Jet Drag comes with bragging rights!” The Jet Drag raised approximately $100,000 this year, and the picnic atmosphere of the event made it fun for everyone involved.

Here are some other Delta efforts that supported the American Cancer Society, as well as its 100th birthday:

  • Delta emblazoned a Boeing 767-400 with the American Cancer Society’s 100th birthday logo and the phrase "The Official Sponsor of Birthdays." The aircraft, which flies international routes, raised awareness in Europe, Latin America, and the United States.
  • A digital billboard saluting the American Cancer Society’s 100th birthday
  • Delta emailed customers, offering frequent flyer miles to those who donated to the American Cancer Society, and a $25 corporate donation for every Crown Room club membership purchased in May.
  • An interview published in Delta’s Sky Magazine featured  American Cancer Society CEO, Dr. John Seffrin, and Delta CEO, Richard Anderson. The feature also included an interview with Dr. Vincent T. DeVita Jr.

In 2014 and beyond, Delta plans to expand its support of Relay for Life to new cities, and grow ongoing fundraising programs and corporate promotions. West encourages other corporate leaders to partner with the American Cancer Society and highlights the benefits and importance for the Delta Air Lines community.“The partnership has been very rewarding for us. It builds teamwork and is emotional for everyone involved,” he says. “This brings people closer together and promotes creativity. That’s the fun part. We are always thinking, how do we raise money and have fun at the same time? How can we raise the bar higher next year? Our legacy will be our impact on the fight against cancer. This is impactful on your company. It’s bigger than your company.”