Delta Air Lines chief executive Ed Bastian has been roundly mocked for his refusal to call the delta COVID-19 variant by the name we know it by – the delta variant. Instead, Bastian has taken to referring to the delta variant as the “darn variant” or, even more confusingly, by its Pango dynamic nomenclature.
Last week, Bastian broke the news that vaccine-hesitant employees would soon need to pay a $200 monthly surcharge on the airline’s healthcare plan to cover additional costs of COVID-19 hospitalization.
“Over the past few weeks, the fight has changed with the rise of the B.1.617.2 variant – a very aggressive form of the virus,” Bastian said, deliberately avoiding the term ‘delta variant’. COVID-19 hospitalizations are costing Delta around $50,000 per employee and in recent weeks only unvaccinated staff have ended up in the hospital due to the virus.
Despite the significance of the memo, Bastian did not clarify that B.1.617.2 variant was, in fact, the delta variant. An expert group formed by the World Health Organization (WHO) settled on using letters of the Greek alphabet to track COVID-19 variants because they were easy to pronounce and non-stigmatizing.
Previously, the media had taken to referring to variants by where they had first been detected. The delta variant had been commonly referred to as the ‘Indian variant’ because it was first described in India.
There was a very real fear among scientists, however, that countries might be less inclined to reports COVID-19 variants because of the risk of being stigmatized.
But the expert working group who decided to use the Greek alphabet as a naming convention probably didn’t consider the risk of stigmatizing a private company. Luckily, the Pango naming convention is still perfectly acceptable and is the preferred method of referring to variants within the scientific community.
The naming system was invented last April and Pango is a Latin verb that means “I fix or set”, or record, or tell accounts of something.
That, though, hasn’t stopped talk show hosts from mocking Bastian over the delta variant. Jimmy Fallon suggested Delta could subtly change the way the name of the airline is pronounced to ‘Del-tay’.
Delta insists that people know there’s no link between their airline and the variant but a spokesperson said of the decision not to refer to it directly: “The Delta family holds our brand close as part of our professionalism and all that we stand for.”
“And while we haven’t seen any serious confusion out there as a result of the WHO naming convention, there’s also the catchy scientific name of the variant that deserves to have its profile lifted through all of this as well.”
Photo Credit: Markus Mainka / Shutterstock.com
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.