Delta CEO Ed Bastian expressed indifference bordering on hostility to the SkyTeam alliance this week even though his airline is a founding member. Now SkyTeam has hit back, gently, with a reminder of the value that it brings travelers.
Bastian told Bloomberg that he has not seen the value brought to customers by SkyTeam:
One of the things that has not been successful in the airline world are the alliances. We, self-critical, SkyTeam alliance I don’t think we’ve brought a lot of great value to customers, I don’t think we’ve brought a lot of great value to our member airlines. And we’re going at this thing in a very different approach.
We’re going at it through Delta making bilateral investments in the most important partners. We own 49% of Virgin Atlantic, we own 49% of Aeromexico, the two closest carriers to us on either side of the country. We’re invested in Air France KLM. We invested in Korean. We invested in China Eastern. We invested in Gol down in Brazil.
As a consequence what you see is this network of influence that we’re having within those companies. Those companies want to know what Delta has learned about operational efficiency and prowess and premium, we want to learn what it takes to win in those local markets. And over time while we can’t own them in terms of whole-owned consolidation we can have meaningful enough investment that we create an international network of carriers that will be uniquely tied where you have Delta as the centerpiece. That’s our goal.
But how is success measured? What is value? Is that a fair assessment of SkyTeam?
A SkyTeam spokesperson told me:
Alongside its 19 members, SkyTeam has been reflecting on the value drivers of the alliance. How to build on its strong foundations while evolving into an alliance fit for the future. SkyTeam is undergoing a digitally-driven transformation, we are very open about this. We are focused on generating value for customers and members through creating a more seamless travel experience enabled by technology, a strategic direction all members support.
I Remain A Believer In Alliances
Alliances have evolved over the years and no longer represent the sort of behemoth unions that never actually existed but were once thought possible. Alliance-driven joint-purchasing projects and other large-scale initiatives have largely taken a backseat to a more service and compliance-oriented role
And SkyTeam, being the third and final major alliance formed, represented the leftovers. That is not to say that Delta is worse than American or United or Air France/KLM is worse than Lufthansa or British Airways. Rather, it is to say that SkyTeam has key holes in Australia, India, Japan, and much of the African and South American continent. That does make creating a cohesive and exclusive network harder.
But I appreciated that rather than attack Bastian, SkyTeam pointed out the true value it brings–and that alliances in general continue to bring.
What I love about alliances is that you can earn status with one airline and enjoy luggage, priority boarding, lounge, preferred seating, and sometimes even upgrades on other airlines. I appreciate seamless connections and the ability to earn points in one loyalty program across many carriers. Finally, I appreciate technology that makes my life easier like the ability to assign seats across several alliance airlines no matter which carrier ticketed my reservation.
While all of that is feasible under the bilateral investment model that Bastian outlines (or under a joint-venture model), alliances allow for an even wider web of seamless connections and reciprocal benefits that make traveling so much more of a pleasure. These sorts of value adds truly keep me loyal and should be looked at not as token gestures that have little practical bearing on loyalty. Naturally, the bulk of that loyalty goes to the alliance member closest to home. Delta should not underestimate that.
Bastian’s sentiment is not totally off-base and Delta is certainly not leaving SkyTeam anytime soon. Still, I think the business case for alliances remains and the potential for a more seamless customer experience is an important factor that bilateral investments will never fully cover versus a loser federation like an alliance.
Sorry where exactly is digital benefit? I am not able select a seat on a AirFrance code share through Delta Airlines on the Delta app. I have to go to individual airline websites still. Skymiles should truly have an unified approach with one mileage ID. The other alliances too have this problem, why doesn’t Skymiles truly pave the way? Look at Skymiles website, any value?
Also I feel like Ed’s answer was really hinting on a point that Skymiles alliance has more work to do to bring benefit at scale.
I am able to select Air France seats on the Delta app. when did you last try?
Only medallion status members can select seats maybe … we can select it all which I like… but as a non member maybe that’s the issue?
Ditto with David. I tried to book Air France, KLM and recently KAL but was not able to get my Delta Diamond/Platinum status for seat choices and upgrades. I had to ‘purchase’ so-called Comfort+. For an average traveler like myself the alliance has been a token gesture.
The alliances are a convoluted broken mess that provide little value to travelers. Try checking a bag on BA with a connection on Iberia. Can’t do it. How about checking in on two Iberia flights on different PNRs can’t do it.
Not flying Delta or any US airlines any more. Instead of them giving you seats you paid for or promised by your FB status they put you on a waiting list. This is enough to avoid them all. Corruption of rules and values leads to migration to better airlines. Delta, reap what you sow.
Mathew, an interesting follow on article might explore the need / potential / value of all 3 alliances merging. Including digitalization, this may provide efficiencies and seamless benefits to travelers (as complained of missing, above). It could act also as a counterweight to strength of airlines doing as expedient. Finally, your comments on how things (and Delta’s attitude in perspective of now dominance) have changed since Delta helped found STAR; were they also one of “leftovers” (at that time?) appreciated.
Obviously this CEO does not see the advantages that i see and feel as a sky team member. The benefit of being able to check in at sky priority and utilize fast track with elite and elite plus when flying economy is by itself a relieve for those who have either of these tiers. An addition of lounge access for Elite tier members when flying with a partner airline would be appreciated.
Kal – Great airline but they could care less about Delta Medallion status. So how is that a Skyteam benefit?
Matthew, is it actually realistic to get an upgrade on a partner airline with status? E.g. You hold status on LH, and get an upgrade on NH.
other skyteam members have you down as elite plus status if you are high enough with one airline. This really just means priority boarding and lounge access. No upgrades with mileage is honored. Never a complimentary upgrade.
There’s also quite a lot of flights with member airlines thats not available on one airline’s website. available seats are It’s not shared across the alliance. This could be/should be improved.
I have, however, bought a free CAL (china airlines) ticket with delta miles. So i guess there’s a benefit.
Have you ever traveled on WestJet? That alone shows the flaws in the alliance in North America. You can’t pick a seat, you can’t even see a seat map on the Delta App. You have a different confirmation number within a connection flight, you have to call WestJet for a seat assignment, and they don’t recognize or upgrade for status.
Platinum means nothing. It’s the Southwest of Sky Team. Ed is completely correct…but we are the ones eating it. Delta sells us on the seamlessness and consistency, but the only things they deliver are surprises and high international fares on sub par airlines and benefits.
Much of What He says is accurate but Skyteam just isn’t as effective as an Alliance as the STAR or ONEWORLD. STAR has the broadest Network with the Most Carriers, not that Many of which are truly worth flying when You look at It. ONEWORLD has the Best Quality Carriers that really Cover the Globe yet has had several Misfires and Carriers that have gone Belly Up over the years. SKYTEAM has issues….several marginal Carriers that bring Nothing to The Alliance and the Dysfunctional approach of Joint Ventures (DL/AF-KLM) and a special arrangement of DL/Virgin only creates more tension/exclusion within the Alliance. If the Alliance doesn’t truly INCLUDE All Members Why are They even bothering under this Veil of Deceit?