What’s The Problem With Delta?


Let’s just say that I have a love/hate relationship with Delta, arguably the largest airline in the world.   I grew up in Atlanta, home of their super-mega-fortress hub, and I even held Medallion status the last few years that I lived there.  I still count many current Medallion members among my family and my close friends. I find Atlanta’s Hartsfield airport to be an amazing place, in large part to Delta’s impressive presence there, the largest ever hub of any airline in the history of the world.  I still continue to fly Delta on occasion, although it is most certainly not my first choice.

At the same time, Delta’s largess seems to be responsible for its customer unfriendliness that many find aloof or even arrogant.  Take for example this recent interview that it’s CEO, Richard Anderson granted to a local news station in Atlanta. To his credit, the reporter, Bill Liss of Atlanta’s 11 Alive News, dares to ask some tough questions of the Chief Executive of the largest company in the region.  Liss focuses on how Delta will compete with Southwest once it completes it’s merger with its rival, Airtran:

“Are you contemplating any changes in your policies especially when it comes to fees and change fees and whatever, in order to meet this competition head on?” Liss asked.

“All you need to do is sign up for an American Express SkyMiles card, and all your bags are free,” Anderson said.

“What happens if I don’t sign up?” Liss asked.

“Well just sign up, and so we don’t have to talk about it,” Anderson said.

I could easily write a whole post on what is wrong with his answer.  No, all your bags aren’t free when you have their credit card, just the first one, and then only if it is under 50 pounds.  Beyond the first bag fee, many of Delta’s fees are exorbitant and arbitrary, even by airline standards.  Just forget for a moment the ludicrous idea that everyone should have a Delta Amex.

The brave reporter continues:

“So you don’t necessarily see any changes in your bag fee or changes in change fees or anything, simply because Southwest is coming in?” Liss asked.

“We make those decisions unilaterally, so normally I would not speak about fares or pricing issues in the future,” Anderson said.

Most businesses set their prices according to the market.  Delta’s CEO doesn’t see it that way, he makes pricing decisions “unilaterally” and tells the reporter, in essence, to screw off.   You really have to see the whole thing to appreciate this CEO’s command performance on blaming everyone else for his failures.   According to Anderson, Delta’s customer service and employee relations failures are the fault of unions, gas prices, the Obama administration and of course, its passengers for not carrying the right credit card.

Kralev Nails It

Nicholas Kralev may be my favorite reporter on the travel beat.  Because he has a background in covering pretty hard news, he pulls no punches when discussing travel, an area that most reporters consider closer the leisure section than the business beat. For example, he has been the only mainstream reporter that I know of to blow the lid on United’s  secret, and egregious practice of StarNet Blocking. In his most recent editorial, he slams Delta’s SkyMiles program for a lack of transparency, massive devaluation, and generally poor leadership.

Every now and then I come across an article such as this that so closely shares my opinion, that I almost have to wonder if the author had been reading my thoughts, or perhaps my blogs.

Am I Off Base?

Some people can find my criticism of Delta to be overly harsh.  You know who you are.   I will say this; If you fly with them often enough to gain Platinum or Diamond Medallion status, it seems that they can do a decent job of satisfying their customers.  Certainly, there is no shortage of Delta apologists over at FlyerTalk.   From where I sit, these customers only represent a small fraction of the flying public.  As a consumer advocate and an occasional Delta customer, I would like to see them improve how they treat the majority of their customers.

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