Delta has become the airline to beat in many respects among US carriers. From pet carriers to closed-door business class suites, Delta is absolutely living in the future.
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The Future Is, Clearly, Imperfect
A reader asked me this week if I would choose Delta or United as my primary carrier given their circumstances. While my own loyalty lies with United, Delta is an excellent choice for many travelers. That said, Delta Air Lines is not perfect, far from it.
Delta is clearly leading the pack among US carriers, the largest air market in the world, but some of the future isn’t so rosy. I am a fan of airline alliances, I like the option to book first-class award tickets, I like the consistency of award charts, and I have more confidence in newer aircraft – all at odds with Delta’s approach to the business.
Innovation Through Implementation
Delta has dedicated themselves to improving the passenger experience onboard their aircraft. This is most evident in the technology they install and their imperative to bring free wifi to all flights. While American Airlines only recently fully outfitted their fleet with wifi (many legacy US Airways carriers didn’t have it installed) Delta is on a quest to make theirs free. American is ripping out recently installed IFE screens while Delta is putting them in.
The carrier announced this week a clever and humane pet carrier for cargo transported animals. This is likely because the US is about to allow carriers to offer their own policy on Emotional Support Animals, but allows for differentiation. It’s as if Delta Air Lines has already advanced beyond legislation, implementation of their own policy and come up with something pet owners would want for their animal and choose Delta because of it. They’ve had this in the works for three years.
American Airlines has one of the best business class seats on their 777-300ER aircraft, licensed from Cathay Pacific. But Delta is the only long-haul international carrier in the US with a closed-door suite (though JetBlue runs a suite product on long-haul domestic routes.) United is still flying 777-200s with eight across seating in business class – yes, eight. Polaris is a great product, but it’s sparsely rolled out and the installation will take years to complete across the fleet, Delta One is already in place on all long-haul aircraft and has been for some time.
No Labor Unions
I have written that American Airlines management should be ashamed that they have failed to complete a contract for their mechanics, other unions are up in arms too. I have also argued that unions may not be best for those employee groups any more.
Delta is giving its employees two months of pay as a performance bonus this year – and that’s not even because of settlements with Boeing over the 737-MAX grounding as it is at Southwest. Labor unions may offer a lot to their membership but Delta has given them a reason to doubt.
Labor unions are also generally in decline (just over 10% of American workers today are union members), a hallmark of the past – not of the future.
Leading Loyalty Evolution
Like it or not, Delta started the evolution in loyalty programs. Nearly every change that the loyalty community has seen started at Delta.
Beginning with the positives, Delta first rolled out a reciprocity program with hotel chain SPG. Since their partnership, United partnered with Marriott (when the two brands were still separate) and American partnered with Hyatt just last year.
Delta was the first to announce a shift to mileage earnings based on dollars spent on airfare and a requirement for elite status based on that criteria. It also moved elite requirements for their highest status up to 125,000 miles flown per year, though United has bucked that trend and American didn’t follow.
Even their variably-priced awards, something that scares most loyalty program fans like myself, have proven to add value to customers in many cases, though many of their awards price out sky-high.
We may not like all of the future but Delta is operating years into the future. Their stock performance, their product rollouts, their employee relations are all signs of what’s to come for other US carriers if they follow suit.
What do you think? Is Delta living in the future? Is the future grim if that’s the case, or better?
Kyle. You do know the performance bonus is contractual? Labor unions is why the employees got the bonus. You just be out of your mind or not truly knowledgeable about labor unions in US Airlines. Delta is trying to beat scope clause by outsourcing flying to partner airlines and codesharing. They are DESPERATE to fly for cheaper even though they made billions. Labor unions are there to help protect jobs and keep Delta from getting to greedy. I am very thankful for my union and couldn’t imagine working for an airline without own. OH what they would do to pilots without then union! And what the general public doesn’t understand at all
“Delta One is already in place on all long-haul aircraft”
A rebranded Delta business class is already in place on all long-haul aircraft. There is no standard Delta One seat like United is putting in. There are at least 5 seat types I can think of (Diamond on 757, reverse herringbone on a330s, herringbone on 772s, a very tight Vantage on 767s, VantageXL w/door on the 350/330neo. For all intents and purposes, United matched Delta in this regard the second they rebranded all longhaul J to Polaris.
Delta also has terrible partners and SkyTeam is a trashy alliance. Lounges suck everywhere. Once United is finished installing Polaris I think they destroy Delta. Delta is a propaganda company. They aren’t any better. I don’t need the silly TV screen. Their food sucks, planes are packed way more right than United with limited Comfort Plus. The suites are a marketing gimmick and Skymiles is by far the worst program. I hated trying to get Comfort plus upgrades. Diamond on $900 last minute coach fare and couldn’t pick and empty aisle seat in comfort plus. Screw that.
I agree with you, Ryan. Delta is not good. See my comment below.
James- don’t be a clown. Your argument has as much logical and economic support as the expected pay out current young union pension contributors will get from major union funds
Do you work for Delta? Because it doesn’t sound like you do.
I would recommend you avoid commenting on things you don’t understand or know about and stop trashing a company that has worked hard to be a leader.
Ryan- you mad bro? You argue for the efficacy of unions as a bargaining tool for employees at major airlines but fail to take into account historical evidence for the failure of unions long term. Without a doubt collective bargaining was necessary during and post-industrial revolution, as it created the implementation of new labor regulations aimed at bettering the system for workers. However, as the labor market has evolved and automation and regulations have stayed firm, unions have becoming terrible long term employee solutions. Most pension funds are dangerously underfunded, union bosses find themselves in jail (see the UAW), and the costs for laborers is prohibitive compared to the long term earning potential at a non-union shop. Why do you think Michigan, of all states, went right to work or why Boeing opened a major plant in South Carolina? Additionally, Delta has shown a level of support for its employees with profit sharing that hardly appears greedy and its ironic for you to fault them for turning a multi billion dollar profit and call them greedy when they share the wealth with employees instead of dumping it all in a dividend or stock buy back. Are you arguing that Delta is the only transport company not focused on flying leanly to increase profits so they can reinvest into the company? Every airline has its issues, but to say United, of all airlines, will destroy Delta is just not founded on the reality of the market currently. You also argue Delta planes are packed more tightly that United, lets do a quick case study on that one… on the 767-400, a plane no one is rushing to fly- United puts in 39 ‘Polaris” seats in a 2-1-2 configuration and Delta does 1-2-1 with 34 seats while also offering premium econ, comfort plus and regular economy. In economy United offers 17.3 inch seat width and 31 inch pitch- pretty standard- and Delta offers 18.1 inch width and 31 inch pitch- sounds less cramped to me… Certainly Polaris is a great product for sleeping, but no way United airplanes are less cramped than any legacy carrier in economy. There are other options to compare, this was just an easy choice. Its also laughable how you only say Delta is avoiding a scope clause issue, as wasn’t it United that named a whole new plane- CRJ-550 just to stay within the bounded 50 seat limit of 90% United is allowed in the Union contract? They actively put less people on planes in order to stay within the scope clause and it shows how limited the actual flexibility the clause is. There is no doubt United is making money, which is great for the overall industry and economy, but your argument for the long-term positivity of Unionization just doesn’t hold much historical evidence not does your argument for the inevitable destruction of Delta at the hands of the constantly reduced in service levels Polaris (looking at you wine flights, soup, extra bedding, plastic pre-departure glasses, proactive mid-flight snacks).
Nobody thinks a union is the best idea. The best idea is for management and labor to work harmoniously together, jointly sharing the benefits when business is good, and jointly shouldering the burdens when it’s not. When management calls for labor alone to sacrifice in lean years, and again to sacrifice when times are good, well, that’s when you need a union. ‘Cos they ain’t gonna listen to individual employees.
Have fun paying your union dues Ryan!
Shawn….Yes I did. Worth every penny of it. Profit sharing was a union negotiated benefit. Without the pilot union negotiating this benefit no other employee group would be enjoying it today.
Roy- so you are telling me that the only way to gain access to profit sharing is via a union only and that the airline just benevolently passed this on to everyone else? That argument could not be more fallacious. One one hand you say that one union’s negotiation is passed on to other non-unionized groups, so- in your opinion- the union is paramount. But at the same time, the non-unionized groups enjoy the same (if not better with Delta) profit sharing (because non-unionized do not have to pay dues) and thus non-union gains union benefits at a lower cost to the employee…. I fail to see the usefulness of the union. Not only that, Profit Sharing is NOT a union created idea- it was invented in industrial France in the 1800s as a means of lowering the divide between ownership and employees, well before unionization. ALPA was founded in 1931. Once again, in the modern era unions show little efficacy for employees, and creates a bureaucracy ripe for corruption (take a look at many pension funds- CalPERS, Central States, etc and they are all billions underfunded.
Reasons Delta is the past:
-Backwards and exploitative labor policy — unions ensure safety
-Ancient planes — the MD88 is so loud that I’d argue it’s hazardous to passengers and crew, especially those seated in the rear
-ATL is a terrible hub — some of the worst dining of any major airport in the world, rude staff, uncomfortable concourses *despite* recent reservations
-ATL is a dangerous hub — Georgia’s awful gun laws, IMHO, endanger passengers pre-security
-Abusive monopolistic pricing for those who actually live in the ATL region — anti-trust action should be taken
-Some awful on-board catering — how is the “meatball dish” considered a “first class” meal?
I’d prefer to fly AA or United where at least I don’t have to fly through ATL and at least I know the staff are being respected and afforded basic labor rights.
James- lets take this piece by piece….
1) You argue Delta has backwards and exploitative labor policies. Full disclosure- and is clear via my earlier comments, I am no fan of unions. I saw them gut the retirement of so many people near where I grew up in Detroit. But- while unions were tremendous in the 1920s until the 1970s there is little argument with the way regulation has evolved in the labor market that Delta is being exploitative, the numbers just don’t support it with average income and bonus structure.
2) ATL is not THAT bad. Yeah, most American airports are not Changi or ICN, the combo of ATL, DTW, MSP, LAX, (JFK sucks) is a decent network.
3) Your gun laws argument is trash man, come on- be academic and better than that. United in ORD or Southwest in MDW is in a far more dangerous city than ATL, and United in Houston and American in Dallas gut your argument- as Texas has tremendously lax gun laws. Gun laws are a far different debate, and one I am very against assault rifles and like, but do see and efficacy in the 2nd amendment in some cases, but you cant cherry pick location and ignore others.
4) You are honestly going to argue the AA and United catering is better than Delta- none are great, but AA is a joke, United is ok, and Delta is ok.
5) The MD88 is not great, but its being retired and don’t be that guy who argues flying inside a plane causes a hazard- its mildly more noisy, no ones ear drums are bursting….
How are AAs “Labor Rights” as you so defend leading to a better airline and benefiting the income of the unionized employees? I don’t see 2 months salary bonuses coming to AA mechanics who are sabotaging airplanes…
James, let’s take this step by step from someone “in the know”.
1) Exploitative labor practices? Give me specific examples, because I haven’t heard jack about exploiting labor at DL.
2) Engine noise is certainly not a hazard to passengers and crew. I’ve flown on MD88s before. In the back. It was loud but I wasn’t at risk of losing my hearing. Besides, as stated by Ean, DL is retiring the MD88/90 fleet. So it’s a non-issue. Even with the other older aircraft, Delta’s TechOps folk are some of the absolute best in the business. There’s a reason other airlines send their planes to Delta to be checked up on.
3) Never had an issue finding good food in Atlanta. But you should keep in mind it’s literally one of the busiest airports in the world.
4) Seriously? Atlanta’s airport is dangerous? You do realize it’s a secured area and there’s cops everywhere? Even if you meant just the city itself, there’s no way it’s more dangerous than Chicago, a UA, AA, and WN hub. Get outta here.
5) Monopolistic pricing from ATL? It’s a Delta hub and HQ, dude. But for the sake of argument let’s look:
FlightRadar24 shows the most popular route from ATL this week is MCO. We go look up flight fares on Google for Monday, 2/24 and voila, Delta is only third most expensive. UA is $326 and American is $175 Both are connecting flights. Delta is $157 and direct.
Just for kicks, let’s look at NYC, specifically LGA, same day (2/24). Delta is the second cheapest option, at $177. American is cheapest at $167. Frontier, United, JetBlue, and Spirit are all more expensive, in that order. So please, dump the “monopoly” argument. It didn’t age well.
6) It’s airline food. You’re flying a commercial aircraft, not Air Force One.
@James: I am a lifetime Gold with AA and switched to Delta 15 years ago when I moved to MSP. Since then I flew almost all on NWA and then Delta. I have been a Delta Diamond for many years and was invited to be a Delta360. I have absolutely nothing to complain about Delta and you know why? Because I flew some UA and AA flights in between including 3 weeks ago on an international business class on AA. You can say whatever you want about Delta and I know they are miles away from any comparison with some European and Middle Eastern airlines BUT when you compare Delta to AA and UA they are miles away in front of their US competitors. MD88? Where do you fly from? I just paid almost $8k to fly AA business class and do you know the first thing I heard from their flight attendant? “I hate this plane!! I do not understand why we still have to fly on this horrible plane.” It was a old, very old 767. The food was inedible, the service was a joke and they gave me an iPad with a charger if I wanted to watch a movie. Oh and guess what? They still had a movie playing all night long on an old TV hanging from the ceiling. I don’t use ATL but can tell you Delta has transformed MSP in a top international airport. The airport is renovated and has won many awards of being one of the best airports in the US. That would not have happened without Delta. Now, is Delta perfect? No, but it is way better than UA and AA.
Anyone who is in a union and doesn’t resent the union is probably horrible at their job. They need to extort their employer to not only not fire them for doing a crap job, but also to pay them above market wages, which of course raises prices for everyone else. How about just do a good job and earn a raise like 95% of the rest of us have to do? Seniority is the stupidest way ever to award pay increases. Paying people who don’t produce is bad for the economy.
@James Unions make airlines safer? Laughable! Like the AA mechanics sabotaging aircraft? Merit based employment would make airlines safer, not lazy entitled union thugs.
Sure, Delta is less horrible than AA or UA, but that’s not saying much. I’m so glad most of my travel is on Asian carriers.
WT2- Truer words! Asian carriers are great, but we gotta live with what we have haha
Delta generally has a better product than other US carriers but is bad for premium flying because of cost. It has exorbitant fares, parsimonious upgrade policies, miserable code-shares, and a completely debauched SkyMiles program.
“just over 10% of American workers are union members”. I think you mean U.S. workers Not American Airlines workers. What is the percentage of American Airlines workers without a current contract?