This Song is Over

November 15, 2005

Song Airlines, Delta’s low-cost carrier, did many things right. In trying to out-Jet Blue Jet Blue, Song often succeeded. But, in the end, they failed: Song will go away next spring – and the fleet will be modified and incorporated into Delta proper. At best, Delta will cherry-pick some “greatest hits” from the Song repertoire.

The product itself was great. Song added interactive games and music to the in-flight TVs. They created a unique voice in their communications, infusing humor and sophistication into signs, tickets, in-flight relaxation guides. Song flight attendants brought some needed levity to the seatbelt and oxygen mask routine – and people actually paid attention. There was a Song line of books in the works and a line of CDs – each targeting their female skewing contemporary adult traveler. Designer drinks and snacks all added to a different in-flight flavor.

But what Jet Blue and Southwest have that Song never could is the culture of an independent. And, it probably didn’t help that Delta’s CEO once joked that a better name for the airline would have been “Swan Song.” Certainly the troubled balance sheet of the parent, the high cost of marketing two brands, the cannibalism in overlapping routes, etc. are all significant factors in the demise. Song could have grown into a very interesting brand – but it probably never made money and ultimately had a short leash inside a deeply in-debt parent.

The moral probably has something to do with teaching an old dog new tricks. Adding some lipstick and a funky name does not turn a lumbering giant into an entrepreneurial force. Consumers lose on this one, as a better, cheaper flying experience disappears from the sky.

- Jonathan Paisner

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