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Delta Air Lines’ CEO has battled both the NRA and Bernie Sanders

Delta CEO Ed Bastian will sit for a Code interview with Kara Swisher and Jason Del Rey on Tuesday.

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian at the 2018 Fast Company Innovation Festival.
Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Fast Company

In February, some praised Delta Air Lines for how it treats its employees, after it announced that it was paying out more than $1 billion in profit sharing to them for the fifth consecutive year.

But just three months later, the airline and its CEO Ed Bastian found itself on the receiving end of vitriol from presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders for a different employer action: distributing fliers meant to discourage some of its employees from unionizing.

The quick about-face shows how the decisions of big business have been politicized in recent years. And not just from one side of the political aisle.

A year earlier, the National Rifle Association campaigned against Delta after the airline ended a discount program for NRA members following the association’s response to a high school shooting in Parkland, FL. The NRA went on to successfully lobby Georgia lawmakers to pull a Delta tax break, costing the airline $40 million in taxes in the process.

“[O]ur values are not for sale,” Bastian wrote to Delta employees about the decision.

These are some of the topics Kara Swisher and I will discuss with Bastian when we interview him at the Code Conference on Tuesday evening at 5:45 p.m. PT.

We’ll also look to get his thoughts on some of the biggest stories in the airline industry right now — from the grounding of Boeing airplanes after two horrific crashes to the never-ending complexity of rewards programs and baggage fees.

And we’ll be curious to learn what innovation is on the horizon for air travel, and what he thinks of new, disruptive transportation ideas being hatched in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs.

How to watch the full interview: Each and every onstage interview at Code will be available to watch in full on Recode’s YouTube channel in the coming days.

You can also get live updates and breaking news from the stage. Follow Recode on Twitter so you don’t miss a beat. We’ll be live-tweeting our onstage interview with Bastian using #CodeCon. We’ll also feature some exclusive behind-the-scenes highlights from the conference on Instagram.


Recode and Vox have joined forces to uncover and explain how our digital world is changing — and changing us. Subscribe to Recode podcasts to hear Kara Swisher and Peter Kafka lead the tough conversations the technology industry needs today.