If you had a chance to ask Delta CEO Ed Bastian for one program change – what would it be?

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One on one with Delta’s CEO – Photo credit: thegate.boardingarea.com

Tuesday night I was invited to attend the private launch party for the very impressive new Delta Sky Club in the B concourse at ATL Atlanta airport. It really is a very nice open space to enjoy while waiting for your flight and I think I will find myself spending much time there.

Present at the event were all the “who’s who” from Delta including the CEO, Ed Bastian. I had not met Mr. Bastian yet so it was a treat and a chance, as a Delta frequent flyer, to ask the head of the airline I fly so much to please fix something for me/us.

Now your head may be spinning thinking of all the things I could ask him to fix for us. What would be the one thing you would ask? Would it be “fix SkyMiles”? Not going to happen and too broad and the head of SkyMiles was there anyway. What about give us more upgrades like before? Not going to happen either as the Delta president, Glen Hauenstein was there and he clearly likes selling upgrade not giving them to elites who have earned the perk. No I wanted to address one single thing that I really thought he could look at and change.

To be more specific, when I say Shena I mean gate agent shenanigans when it comes to elite upgrades about YBYL or you board you lose or #TeamBoardLast as I call it as there is right now no in print official policy. That is, an agent can, at their discretion, come on board and pull who was #1 (or 2 or 3 if more open seats) from their coach seat up to 1st class. But they don’t have to and this takes time to do and to move. The better way, IMO and often the reality, is that the last elites standing at the gate just before the door is closed get that open 1st class seat that was not filled by someone who did not make the flight (but was checked-in).

I asked Mr. Bastian to make it official one way or the other. To put it in print. I said we don’t mind following the rules – as long as we know the rules and the rules are published. Ambiguity makes us crazy. To me, having a Delta employee sitting in 1st class (domestically) when I have paid for a ticket and earned my status and the upgrade perk is a real slap in the face. However, if the rule is YBYL and it is published then I cannot complain because I chose to board the flight and give up my upgrade perk. Period.

Now you may say what about overhead space. Yes, yes, yes we have had this argument over and over but to me I am simply willing to risk it for a 1st class upgrade on a flight longer than say 2 hours. Under 2 I may just board. Let’s just live with the fact that it is a personal choice and if we had a firm rule we would know.

Mr. Bastian listened (I mean really listened – I was impressed) and said he understood the frustration and would have a team look at the options. I hope he does. This is fixable and would improve the medallion program.


Don’t spend SkyMiles for this 😉

The next person I talked to was the head of SkyMiles, Sandeep Dube (the photo above is not him just a fun shot from the party). I had meet him when he first started at Delta at the Freddie Awards a few years back. So if you had one on one time with the head of SkyMiles what would you ask him? I know there are endless choices, right. But here is the thing – Delta is doing so many of the depressing negative changes they did before he arrived as well as after he arrived like endless unannounced devaluations. I would love to ask for 1 year to book at the lower level before they go into effect, but unless the government mandates this to all airlines I doubt it will happen. Same goes for so many other options. So what did I press Mr. Dube about?

I have hammered this over and over for years that it is still to me one of the most crushing negative changes to SkyMiles ever. If you do not understand this you do not get how SkyMiles can work.

First off, the ability to stopover on a trip can be amazing. Spend two or three days in London or Paris on your way to somewhere else? Amazing right? I have treasured memories of just such short stops along the way for no extra charge in SkyMiles. And why should there be! I am not flying extra flights – just stopping along the way. Right now Delta allows a stop internationally up to 23 hours and 59 minutes (or less). Does it cost Delta more if I stopover 23 hours or 3 hours or 3 days? No. This is just a stupid rule and reduces the value of SkyMiles.

Next, a stopover can be the “glue” that makes SkyMiles work. Maybe an award can only be found if you are willing to spend a day or two somewhere along the way. You know, I am happy to spend a day or two in Amsterdam or Rome to get to where I want to be. Talk about your #FirstWorldProblems to deal with. Yes please! Sandeep said he would look into it and I hope it can happen.


Shameless selfie – I know!

Next I got to chat with Master Sommelier, Andrea Robinson. She is as nice in person as you see on video. She has a very good book on wine btw and she knows her trade. I mentioned to her the quality of the domestic wines are really bad. She knows all about this, folks. She did not say it but I have a feeling this is out of her control and cheap domestic wine is a cost centered choice. Her focus is the international flavors clearly. I asked in that regard if she could consider some red wines that have been aged in bourbon barrels as that is truly a unique and pleasant flavor (try some if you have not yet – you will like it).

So there you are. What do you think of my questions. What questions would you have asked these folks. Do you think anything I mentioned will change? What other changes do you expect from Delta over the next year either in SkyMiles or the Medallion program? – René


  1. Yeah, ask why McKinsey et al are running the company and calling the shots. These people you spoke to are slave to the myopic nature of their “consultants”.
    It’s a about the next quarter’s numbers and the associated annual bonuses.
    I’m glad you had the opportunity to speak with these nice people but if you expect some grand changes I’m afraid you are all wasting a lot of time.

  2. looked like a fun time wish i had been invited… would have said Hi to Andrea and reiterated the wine choices !! I email about it alot!!!why can’t we have better free wines??

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