Guest Rant: Is Delta the Pepsi of Airlines?

10 Comments

While the internet was abuzz about Pepsi’s failed Kendall Jenner ad (read more here) and other travel blogs were covering the details of Delta’s latest unannounced devaluation of their SkyMiles program, a bigger story was developing: Delta solidifying itself as the (tone-deaf) Pepsi of airlines. (Ironic since Coke and Delta are partners and both based in Atlanta.) John also reported on the devaluation here.

Delta Air Lines

Backing up a bit: earlier this week a series of storms in Atlanta as well as bad weather in the Northeast US grounded Delta’s hub, disrupting their operation and creating a domino effect. However, 3 days later Delta was still having problems recovering. Delta even went so far as asking crews to sleep on planes due to lack of hotels, asking staff to volunteer to work without pay and taking the unusual step of accepting help from loyal Diamond Medallion customers going to the Atlanta airport to assist stranded passengers.

NOTE: This is a guest post by a friend of mine who has been devoted Delta flier since the airline took over Northwest.

Safety always comes first, but taking so long to recover and leaving passengers stranded for 3+ days shows there are clearly operational problems as many passengers reported not being able to see their flights online, nor Delta notifying passengers via phone, text or email as their re-booking systems usually are so good at doing. IT systems were clearly overloaded or down. Had Delta not burned so many interline (read more here) bridges with it’s competitors it may have been able to recover faster by putting stranded passengers on other airlines. As a cost cutting measure, Delta is already notorious for keeping pax on their own metal during irrupts (irregular operations or flight disruptions).

Delta’s cost-cutting and fiercely competitive actions have a bottom line: they returned over 3 billion dollars in profits to shareholders in 2016.

Late Thursday, while passengers were still sleeping in its airports and call hold times exceeded 2+ hours for reservations and customer service (read more here), Delta rolled out the SkyMiles devaluation. The changes were immediate and unannounced. And since Delta refuses to publish an award chart, the changes were hard to quantify and pinpoint. However, the increases to partner awards were quickly discovered by people trying to make bookings. 

The timing couldn’t be more tone-deaf, underscored by the arrogance of consistently giving SkyMiles customers no advanced notice “for competitive reasons”. As Uber, Samsung, Volkswagen and other brands have discovered, tone-deaf management leads to mistakes, declines in sales, and potential long-terms damage to the brand name. 

Conclusion

Beyond investing more in it’s IT and fallback systems, perhaps Delta management will learn from this and will give a bit more thought to how it communicates with its customers, including timing of implementing its decisions. 

In the meantime, maybe if we crack open a Pepsi everything will be ok?

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  • Jason O

    Why should Delta push domestic interline agreements when almost no other domestic airline does. Southwest, JetBlue, Allegient, Spirit, Frontier, have zero interline agreements and Delta has to compete against them. AA could have come to an agreement with Delta if they wanted; even at a higher price, maybe they would have made out better had they done so. AA has just as many/few interline agreements as Delta. As we want lower and lower fares, Airlines find ways to cut back to cover the lower fares.

    Those same airlines don’t publish award charts either. Southwest has twice devalued their points without an announcement. Not only have fares increase on Southwest (which requires more points), they’ve also twice in the past two years devalued the value of a point. It’s a double-devaluation. Where’s the outcry?

    AA has a published award chart but they don’t use it. They have virtually no saver awards. Good luck finding any. AA says “There are select dates that require a higher number of miles (in addition to Level 1 and 2 awards).” Looks at LAX-SYD. It’s not a “select” number of days that require more than level 2 awards in business class. Level 2 is 195,000 miles one-way. Almost every single day in January 2018 is over 250,000 miles; most are 325000 or 375000 miles. Wait, that’s Level 3, level 4 and level 5. They never mentioned more than one level about level 2. Liars!

    • Neal

      Jason: sounds like you work in DL’s PR department. Nice spin on ‘other airlines don’t have interline agreements’. Where were you when they made the decision to increase awards while people were sleeping on the floor in Atlanta’s airport?

      • alwweb

        My thoughts exactly. I was lucky and made it home Thursday night on Delta with only being 90 minutes late. Many people were bumped. All customer service lines were super long. Employees were announcing to not come and stand in line unless you needed a seat assignment on the current flight. Other flights would be handled later. A family of 3 was unwillingly bumped from the flight before ours. They were told $800 was the maximum compensation and that they could get them on a flight on Saturday night – 48 hours later. They found their own flight the next day for $1000 per person, but Delta said they would not make up the difference. I received a generic apology email from Delta on Monday, but compensation offer or even points for my troubles.

    • Actually, JetBlue has number of interline agreements with foreign airlines: https://www.jetblue.com/airline-partners/

      The recovery after all these issues would have been more swift had Delta been able to move as many affected pax as possible to other airlines bypassing the Atlanta mess altogether.

      Delta has always been very hesitant to move pax to other airlines in case of irops and that might have been the reason why they got more pax from AA than they moved there.

  • Christian

    Kind of ironic that the airline asked Diamond Medallion members to help them out, when Delta has gone to great lengths to screw them and every other loyal Skymiles member over for the last several years. I suppose that it speaks well for southern hospitality that despite Delta’s reprehensible behavior, they volunteered anyway.

  • Malcolm

    They devalue the points so that a short time later they can announce a fare and reward you with’ bonus miles’ so in effect just giving you the same miles as previously, but can now sell it as a bonus reward.Alaska Airlines seem to work with a number of different airlines including AA, Delta and BA. They serve an area that is not serviced by other airlines so there is not so much conflict. What the US needs is an EU type passenger regulation such as 261/2004 so that computer glitches that are deemed an act of god but should be something that is controllable and subject to financial penalty.

    • Absolutely agree on that EC 261/2004 legislation for the US. They can always blame “weather” and other issues and waive all the pex rights.

  • Barry Moss

    I gave up on Skymiles a long time ago and used up the last of my points for a flight last year (at about half what the points should have been worth).

  • Bwitravelerman

    Delta should have a larger work force in order to cope with emergencies, thousands waiting for help from four staff, ATL concourse A at 9pm last Wednesday

    • Saw online that they were asking for ex-employees and Elite members that were in Atlanta area to help with the chaos without any pay. Why people would “help” free multi billion dollar company is beyond me.