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Atlantic Southeast Rebrands Despite the Fact that It's Rarely Seen in Public

Have you ever flown Atlantic Southeast Airlines? It's quite possible you have and didn't even know it. That's the life of a regional airline, which does its flying for major carriers under the major airline's brand. So it may seem strange that Atlantic Southeast (ASA) just spent a lot of effort on doing a complete brand makeover. Why bother rebranding something that nobody knows? There's actually a very good lesson for managers here.

To understand the situation, you have to know the history of ASA. The airline first flew in 1979 from its Atlanta base to small cities around the southeast. After 5 years of steady growth, ASA became the first Delta (DAL) Connection carrier, the brand of Delta's regional airline network. Since 1984, ASA and Delta have been tied at the hip.

In 1999, that tie became even deeper when Delta actually purchased ASA and operated it as a wholly-owned subsidiary. The airline's reliability had suffered and Delta decided to grab the helm itself. That ownership only lasted until 2005 when, as part of a bankruptcy-related agreement with SkyWest (SKYW), Delta sold ASA to SkyWest to be operated as a standalone company. The airline still exclusively flew for Delta.

After 25 years of operating solely for Delta, the airline started to make a change. Having all its eggs in one basket was risky, so it started to branch out. Beginning in February of this year, ASA started flying 14 CRJ-200 regional jets under the United (UAUA) Express banner. That is nothing compared to the 146 airplanes flying for Delta, but it's still a big change for an airline that has long been associated with Delta.

The old logo (at left) was actually created by Delta and incorporated the soft Delta arch that the airline was using at the time. It was in the old Delta blue and red colors and blended in with the rest of the connection carriers. It also carried a lot of baggage.

ASA has spent most of this decade as a cellar-dweller in most customer service metrics. It's constantly finished at the bottom of the heap in on time performance and bag handling has just been a pain point for ages.

Out of 18 reporting airlines, ASA has finished 17th for the 12 months through March 2010. But in that first quarter of 2010, it finished a more respectable 13th. It also finished the first quarter more than 10 points higher in on time percentage than during the dregs of 2007. And the trends have been good. Complaints have dropped dramatically. As for baggage handling, ASA is still at the bottom of the pile, but it rarely handles its own bags. It's Delta that is in charge of that, and, as ASA President Brad Holt told me at the Regional Airline Association convention, when ASA runs a more on time operation, that will naturally improve the baggage situation.

With this background, it's natural to think that a new brand identity would do some good. It really has nothing to do with the public since the brand is rarely out there, but it's for the employees and the airline's perception in the industry. It paints a clear picture of an airline that is independent and looking to work with multiple partners. It's a bold new look that emphasizes the full Atlantic Southeast name instead of simply the ASA acronym.

The new website also appears aimed toward the employees. Most interesting is the prominent placement of the airline's blog, Being Atlantic Southeast. Not many airlines have created a successful blog, so it remains to be seen if this will work (no posts have been made in over a week since the initial flurry), but the tone and intent is clearly to better communicate who the airline wants to be to its employees.

Though Atlantic Southeast isn't a household name, the rebranding is really important for its image in the industry and with its people. As Holt told me, "our employees deserve a good brand with a new face."

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