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.
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?