Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves--And, of Course, Delta Air Lines
THURSDAY, JULY 18, 2019 -- In its quest to dominate the airline world, Delta Air Lines has aligned with a gaggle of gypsies, tramps and thieves to take over Alitalia, the zombie carrier that has made a profit exactly once since its founding in 1946.

To be honest, it's hard to decide where to go next. Shall we discuss the inability of Italy to let Alitalia die and go the way of benighted state-owned relics like Olympic of Greece, Malev of Hungary and Sabena of Belgium? Or shall we instead consider the incredible arrogance and stunning hypocrisy of Delta, which rails against state-supported carriers and government subsidies but is one of the leading welfare-state airlines on the planet?

Let's dispose first of Alitalia, the better to consider Delta's jaw-dropping hubris and self-serving, self-righteous stream of lies, misrepresentations and manipulations.

Alitalia has died a thousand deaths since its founding because it could never successfully navigate the vagaries of Italian politics; manage the bifurcated nature of Italian aviation (the money and profit are in Milan, the traffic and government are in Rome); or balance business and fantasy. It has burned through tens of billions in bailout funds and "emergency assistance," frustrated a dozen international partners and has such a convoluted backstory that Wikipedia breaks it into original and post-1999 failures. The carrier has been in administration--European bankruptcy--since May, 2017, and eaten through still more billions searching for its next saviors.

Enter the gypsies, tramps and thieves. Alitalia's 2019 rescue, confirmed Monday, will partner the huge government bureaucracy that runs Italy's railroads with Italy's economy ministry and Atlantia, the private company that operates Italy's autostrada, Rome's airports and Genoa's Morandi Bridge, which collapsed last year and killed 43 people.

Got that? Alitalia, the hopeless, will be "saved" by a sprawling state railroad, Italy's depleted treasury and the firm that can't keep bridges from falling. Into this mix rides Delta, already aligned with Alitalia via the SkyTeam Alliance, which also includes Air France and KLM, two carriers that wrote off their investment in one of the previous Alitalia rescues.

Delta's alliance with Italy's gypsies, tramps and thieves isn't as strategically imbecilic as it might seem. Milan and Rome can be good hubs and they're useful pieces on the global aviation chessboard. Willie Walsh's IAG controls British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus, which gives him hubs in London, Madrid and Dublin. Via its ownership of other European carriers, the Lufthansa Group can marshal traffic via Brussels, Zurich, Vienna, Frankfurt and Munich. Together with Air France/KLM and Virgin Atlantic--which Delta bought into back in 2012--Delta can feed traffic over London, Paris, Amsterdam and, now, Rome and Milan.

It's not the strategy that is questionable. It's Delta's tactics. The Titanic hypocrisy is nearly impossible to grasp.

First under Richard Anderson and now under chief executive Ed Bastian, Delta rails almost daily about the difficulty of competing against state-owned, state-subsidized airlines. It led a years-long campaign against Middle East airlines and claimed those carriers were using state funds to steal Delta's business. In recent months, it has attacked Air Italy, claiming new Milan-U.S. routes are nothing more than an insidious attack on Delta by Qatar Airways, which controls Air Italy via its 49 percent stake. Delta opposes the Ex-Im Bank because it claims low-interest loans to foreign carriers to purchase Boeing aircraft are an existential threat.

The daily drumbeat is a spectacle of xenophobia and Nativism and a toxic brew of cooked books, stilted assumptions and America First lies. Delta's minions pollute the airways, newspapers and social media with fake news and faux patriotism. Delta is so good at what it does that it even convinced USA Today to run op-eds attacking Delta's international competitors.

Except it's all a lie. An endless string of lies. Every day and every way, Delta lies about its competitors and itself.

How, after all, can you square Delta's decision to buy into Alitalia with its claim that it opposes state-subsidized carriers? Delta's scheme to take a piece of the newest new Alitalia--the scuttlebutt is a 15 percent slice--literally puts it in bed with the Italian government.

Delta's Alitalia play would be outrageous if it was a one-off anomaly. But it's not. Even as it rails against state subsidies for competitors, Delta takes money again and again from state entities.

      Delta owns a stake in China Eastern Airlines, a lavishly state-supported Chinese carrier.
      Delta dumped its pilot pensions on the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, the government-run agency that's the airline industry's go-to for balance-sheet relief. As it has raked in billions in profits in recent years, Delta has made no move to make good on pensions.
      Delta, like many U.S. carriers, receives lavish government subsidies for flying certain routes. One conspicuous example: Delta earns upwards of $5.5 million from the state of Indiana for operating an Indianapolis-Paris nonstop. Last year, Delta received $110 roundtrip from Indiana for each Indianapolis-Paris flyer.

I could offer more examples of Delta's lavish regimen of government subsidies--tax breaks, rebates, bond issues, route authority, gas-tax exemptions, infrastructure improvements--but you get the idea.

Delta rails against state subsidies for its competitors all while feasting on them. It is so confident of its ability to bamboozle you that it can write indignant op-eds about subsidies for Air Italy even while it maneuvers to get into bed with gypsies, tramps and thieves to plunder Italian taxpayer dollars and keep Alitalia going.

Perhaps, in these awful times, none of this matters. After all, Delta's vile and virulent rhetoric--beware of them dangerous foreigners--speaks to an ugly and eternal strain in America. All Delta's claims--they're taking our jobs, they're invaders, they're socialists, they're parasites--can trace its lineage to the Klan and, before that, the Know Nothing Movement.

And, quite frankly, there is very little difference between Delta yelling "Keep 'Em Out!" and ugly crowds chanting "Send Her Back."

But just follow the money. It's always about the money. Hateful rhetoric about "the others" may be racist. It may be un-American. It is certainly ugly and depressing. But it's always, somehow, about the money.

Delta and its alliance of gypsies, tramps and thieves are coming for your pocketbook. You know, the same pocketbook they warn you is at risk because of the invading hordes of socialist, government-dependent outsiders.