Delta and the summer of discontent: Things are getting weird around here!

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You are going to have to bear with me as today’s post is going to be a bit of a long and contemplative look at where the frequent flyer world is going and touch on a bunch of topics that I am seeing both on the ground and behind the scenes. To start with, consider the opening lines from the 50’s show the “Twilight Zone” that said in the opening season one:

“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.” – From IMDB

That, to me, is where we have landed this year. Things are really getting weird and I think are only going to get even more strange before they get better. Let’s take a look at a number of issues facing us and that could affect our travels over the coming months and year ahead.

Pilots. Primarily Delta sky drivers but really all of them. Delta’s CEO suggested that if they didn’t accept the latest company offer things are not going to get better. That is helpful (no, not really). Also, the Delta union clearly is out of touch with it’s members and many have said they are way too cozy with Delta Corp. The news last week that 65% of them said NO to the contract offer speaks very loudly to me. If Delta thinks they can push this group of dedicated individuals around like everyone else, they are living in more of a fantasy land than I ever dreamed possible (more on that in a bit). Lastly, if you have not noticed, there will be a real pilot shortfall moving forward. To keep the best, Delta had better be ready to pay what it takes to keep the current ones and attract new folks as well.

Flight Attendants. I really hope we don’t go “off the rails” here and before the pro or anti union folks go on rants in the comments, but simply understand this: Delta FAs need a union to protect them from the Delta mothership. I am not saying the last union was the right one, but one is needed due to the current Delta corporate culture. All you have to do is look at the full court press from Delta to stop the latest union effort to see just how much Delta fears FAs joining a union. I have a feeling the contract that the pilots will one day hammer out will help push FAs to organize. I really respect Delta FAs and only want the best for them and they would be wise to not put too much trust in the company spin.

Information. I wish I could say I was shocked over the complete clamp down on information open to flyers and we are not just talking SkyMiles here. Delta really seems to want dumb flyers. We are going on the better part of two months that 1st class open seats has been blocked on Delta.com (when you have a reservation booked). Delta still is blocking Expert Flyer access as well as Award Wallet. The only information they want you to clearly see is what they can sell you. Truly el’Bizarre’o land.

Stressed out Delta people. I am getting a strange bunch of e-mail’s and comments about the fact that customer service, normally a Delta strong point, is not what it once was. This is really bad news if it turns into a trend and may just be reactions to the normally busy summer travel season. Call this one #developing.

The Delta product. This is just fascinating to me. I really love the E170 jet and was thrilled to see Delta wanting to get some E190s. Delta pilots are not and do NOT want to be flying “regional” jets as mainline jets. This group is already upset over the 737-900s as they are a downgrade in pay compared to flying the 757 and Delta wants to end up with a fleet of 140 of them. Oh, in case you did not know, Delta flight attendants universally hate the 737-900 due to the ridiculously small galleys and cramped conditions. As a passenger, the E170/E175 has some of the biggest seats on any Delta jets so I am all for it. The 737-900, well, as long as you are in business class rows 2-4 or row 5AB seats it is very nice. The rest – meh.

Social media and the press. We have seen Delta’s FlyerTalk interaction drop to almost zero since last summer. I have heard through the grapevine that explicit orders have come down NOT to interact directly with anyone there or in the press (or blogs for that matter). The “real” Delta company blog, that was posting quite frequently in the past, now only posts a few times a month. The official Delta “press” site, now called the “News Hub”, has now morphed into some kind of Facebook looking blog rather than a useful place for press facts. Lastly we have the “us vs. them” mentality. You are either a partner with Delta, i.e. you publish flowery stories what they want, or you are an enemy of the company.

Honesty and integrity. Delta has never been a shining example of this especially when it comes to changes that affect flyers. Delta has again and again stated they can not publish changes due to legal reasons and yet other airlines tell us in advance when things are going to change. Plus, after a change is made, they still don’t tell us and most times it takes a blog sniffing out a change, or a flyer rudely finding out about a change, for us to know all the facts. I just don’t get this company policy and creating an atmosphere of mistrust between fliers and Delta just makes no sense to me.

Lastly SkyMiles. What more can be said. Nothing shocks me anymore. Delta arrogantly hid the award charts this year and seems to have no interest in bringing them back. Why did they do this? Simple, to be able to charge you whatever they want for an award ticket. Not just that, Delta.com often will price it so you are paying for more than one ticket (each way) and they are just fine with this. For uneducated fliers SkyMiles really is a total joke. In years past, if you were really sharp, you could get amazing value out of your SkyMiles. Now, in 2015, you have to really be a travel expert to get any kind of value out of your SkyMiles.

Does all of this feel like the “fifth dimension” and “the middle ground between light and shadow” to you? It does to me. I think the next year or two is going to be so interesting to watch. Something has to give. You can only stretch a rubber band so far before it either breaks or snaps back. I think we are at that point now. – René

 

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11 comments

  1. It seems all pilots hate the 737-900 vs the 757, I was in line at Starbucks in the United LAX terminal and overheard 2 United pilots ranting about how bad it is to fly vs 757.

  2. I had an interesting experience last week when trying to buy tickets for me and my family on Delta.com . It kept erasing the process of the reservation/purchase . Finally I called the “web help” folks . Helpful but it took almost to (2) hours to purchase 1st class tickets (domestic) on the phone . They had to call me back since it was obvious there were having trouble with the website reservation system . Oddly enough this week I attempted to buy tickets on Air France (Premium) which as far as I know is managed by Delta and had the same experience . So I called on the phone and without acknowledging any technical problems the ( always polite) agent began asking me for all the data so she could do it manually over the telephone (!) . I did not have the time to go trough this again so I told the agent I wanted to think about it . I am considering Lufthansa or BA. Anyone else have had similar experience lately ? Than you!

  3. This is what happens when a country of 300 million people only has three major airlines left. Sure, WN and other low-cost carriers provide some competition, but if you want frequency, network, and international flights, you’re stuck with DL, AA, or UA.

    UA is a complete disaster area by all measures. The only people who are FFs with them are hub captives.

    AA has a good loyalty program, but how long will that last? The rest of the airline is below average at best, and still in the depths of a merger.

    That leaves DL. It is clearly the best airline in the US when it comes to reliability, baggage handling, OTP, service, and hard product. That being said, Delta has made it quite clear that they do not value loyalty. They’d rather sell an upgrade for $29 than give it to the high-value FFs that actually make Delta’s bottom line. Sure, this looks good on their financial statements in the short-term, but in the long-term, they risk alienating the very customers that are the lifeblood of the company. Add this to the decline in customer service, communication, transparency, and employee relations, and you have a simmering longer-term disaster for what is otherwise the best airline in America.

    Hopefully something will come of the DOT investigation into price fixing. We all know that it is happening, but proving it is another matter entirely. Normally I’m skeptical of the line “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help,” but in this case, it is our best hope at a restoration of sanity to an insane industry.

  4. I just booked JFK/LAX econ for Labor Day long wknd ($488). D1 seats are visible (not all grayed out) in laptop and Delta app. (There’s also a $733 “promo” to upgrade to D1 r/t). But my JFK/NRT/TPE r/t shows grayed out D1 seats in laptop, not app.

  5. Unions for the DL FA’s it is never a good situation to live with unions!!!!!!!!

  6. I just got an email about some coming Skymiles and Medallion upgrade enhancements that really are enhancements. Things are looking up in certain areas. I’m sure you will see it soon and comment.

  7. There is NOTHING GOOD at Delta. Except maybe they get you to where you want to go; for a competitive price; in a clean and safe plane; with pretty good personnel; and they give Loyal members a few perks.

  8. @William – you are correct. I was just thinking earlier today that there were so many US carriers that provided international flights – PanAm, TWA, UA, AA, DL, NW, USAir, CO and Eastern, plus Western, Hughes AirWest, Piedmont and on and on for US carriers. Now we have the “BIG” three for international and that is it. No Competition will cause bad service, high fares, bad attitudes. DL realizes they are the best of the three.

    Yes, there is WN, Alaska, JetBlue, then the really “low-cost carriers like Spirit, Frontier, et al.

    Really not much choice.

    @Rene’, I read an article not too long ago how NW took over DL. I thought that was strange since it was the other way around – DL bought NW, but the point of the article was that NW management took over DL and that is the reason DL is the way they are. DL now acts like NWA used to act toward their pax, staff, pilots and FAs. Sad, but apparently true.

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