Delta’s Marketing Chief Talks About New York, Tarmac Delays and More (Across the Aisle)

I know it’s been almost a month since by visit to Delta, but I still have just a couple more posts. Today, it’s time for a good old-fashioned Across the Aisle.

In a very strange legacy of the old days, Delta’s exec team has its own office building that’s full of wood trim and is somewhat imposing. With that first impression, I expected some serious formality for my meeting with Glen Hauenstein, EVP Network Planning, Revenue Management and Marketing. Glen is not what I expected. When I walked into his large office, he was welcoming but quiet (the latter of which seems to surprise many). We headed over to his sitting area to have a wide-ranging chat on the business.

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Cranky: Tell me more about your current planning strategy. You’ve added flights in Raleigh, there’s the new Heathrow fAcross the Aisle From Deltalying. I don’t quite understand if there’s a set strategy here or if it’s just opportunistic.

Glen: The US domestic carrier model is evolving and there are lots of changes. In the last year, American has vacated nonstop service from Raleigh/Durham and St Louis. The airline industry has an amazing ability to fill voids. Look at Eastern. They disappeared and the void was filled almost instantly.

So, we’re always looking for opportunities in markets that are underserved by other carriers. We’re willing to experiment. If we weren’t willing to experiment, we wouldn’t have found things like Africa. By nature, it’s a very risky business, so you have to be willing to take risks.

Cranky: Ah, so it’s about American right now?

Glen: When American chooses to vacate Hartford to Raleigh/Durham, we chose to fly it with a regional jet. That’s not against American, one man’s loss is another man’s gain. I don’t know if this will work, but it’s worth trying.

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Cranky: Let me stick with the American theme for a second. What about New York City, where you compete with them? How are things going?

Glen: We’re very pleased with our New York performance, especially this year. That’s a big lynchpin. Look at the total seats in the metro area and we’re in a virtual dead heat with Continental.

Cranky: Now I have to ask, what does it mean for you to “win” New York. Delta likes to say that a lot, but it’s not clear exactly what that means. How do you win and beat the other guys?

Glen: It’s not necessarily about beating the other guys. For us to win, we have to have a long term sustainable franchise. Does that mean others have to lose? More reporters like to drum that up. This isn’t a war, it’s about market equilibrium.

Right now, we’re really working hard on LaGuardia. We’re adding bigger clubs, better concessions . . . just trying to make the New York experience better.

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Cranky: That brings me to the slot swap. Where does that stand right now? I know you have the litigation, but do you think there’s hope for this?

Glen: Clearly we have litigation that’s proceeding, but we’d hope that this could be resolved without it. There are several new facts that have come out since that order. First is JetBlue entering National. Second is the Continental/United agreement with the DOJ at Newark. Hopefully we get another opportunity to talk to the government because legal action is a last resort.

Cranky: But you’re going ahead with fixing up LaGuardia even though you were proposing to switch terminals there?

Glen: Making our customers wait for the resolution [to the swap] wasn’t something we could do. I’m pretty excited about how the LaGuardia experience will change.

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Cranky: Sticking with the other big New York issue, what about the 3 hour ground delay rule? New York is obviously the epicenter of that. What do you think about it?

Glen: I think the government’s intentions were honorable. Whether it has the desired end result depends on who you’re talking to.

Cranky: Have there been more cancels because of it?

Glen: We have turned back flights getting close to 3 hours and have canceled them. The total number is not that great, but if you’re on a plane that gets turned back at 2.5 hours and cancels, then it becomes very personal.

The first of part of solving a problem is deciding whose problem it is to solve. It has to be a collaborative effort [and not just on the airlines]. Government has come to solutions before that have worked. When you have tarmac delays approaching 3 hours, there is something wrong in the equation.

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Cranky: Let’s head to the other side of the country. You’ve tried to build up LAX a couple of times and it hasn’t worked. So what are your plans for our side of the country?

Glen: Well, we have a four corner strategy. We have great positions in New York, Atlanta, Seattle, and now LAX with Alaska. With Alaska, it’s our intent to position the two carriers together as much as possible. The terminal relocation has been delayed a couple times, but it looks like there’s a firm date in early 2011 now. Putting more feed into that gateway is important. Long haul does really well for us.

Cranky: I’m curious about Alaska, because they also work with American. Is the current setup sustainable?

Glen: Alaska has been a great partner and we’ve had a very successful launch of new services with them. For example, 73 percent of people on our new Transpacific flights from Seattle are connecting. Some of that is from Delta hubs, but Alaska is a big part of that. The travel experience is seamless. It will be great for Seattle too. Being able to provide long haul to connect with Alaska, it’s worked out. It’s a great relationship and we’re excited about the future there and in LA.

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Cranky: Let’s talk about our favorite buzzword, ancillary revenue. Is there any low-hanging fruit left? What’s next?

Glen: It’s an opportunity to give consumers more choice. On one end of the spectrum is the Spirit model. We don’t aspire to be that, but I do admire their model. This industry is on the verge of letting customers choose what’s important to them. Airlines have always been viewed as a “yes or no” company. Allowing consumers to choose from a menu, build your own airline seat/experience is great. The ability to segregate out people who just want the rock bottom fare versus the person who wants it all, it’s something we don’t really do well today.

Different airlines have different approaches to the merchandising side of the model. It gives the opportunity to differentiate experience. One issue is that the guy paying $700 is sitting next to the guy paying $79. The reason we can have 15 flights in a market is both of those guys. But in the product delivery itself, how do you make that $700 person feel like they’re getting more. It’s about differentiating the product.

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Cranky: Now, from the SkyMiles side, how do you deal with the highest elite members not necessarily bringing the highest value?

Glen: Every industry has that issue. We’re figuring out how to recognize the highest yielding customers. It’s not so much a problem of Diamond members not deserving to be there but rather there are Silver and Gold members who should be higher.

Cranky: Is SkyPriority one of the vehicles for that?

Glen: It’s one, I think. There is a large amount of work on the tech side so our most valuable clients are taken care of. It’s important. Go back to places like Raleigh/Durham. We are the largest carrier, but people have many choices.

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Cranky: Let’s switch gears a little here. I’m hearing that your summer operational performance was not very good. Have you figured out what happened?

Glen: We gave ops a very challenging schedule to achieve. In turn, ops was trying to streamline some of its practices. We may have crossed in the night on that. By the second week of August, they were at the top of their game. A sign of a good airline is when they face those challenges head-on, find it really quick. It was clearly not something we were excited about, but it got fixed.

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Cranky: Before I let you go, I have to ask you about one of my favorite things. You were at Alitalia right?

Glen: Yeah, it was a very interesting place. Until recently it was owned by the state. So imagine if there was one US airline and it was run by the government. How would that be? Given that constraint, I’d say they’re actually doing pretty well. But things are changing.

Cranky: Thanks for taking the time to talk Glen.

Glen: My pleasure. Have a safe flight home.

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And with that, I was off to chow down on some good ole’ Southern cookin’ (followed by the customary triple bypass). Thanks once again to the Delta folks for bringing me out there. This was a great way to get a better understanding of where they’re trying to steer this ship. Of course, steering a massive airline this size is a lot easier to talk about than it is to achieve. So now we get to sit back and watch as they work to make big changes.


25 Responses to Delta’s Marketing Chief Talks About New York, Tarmac Delays and More (Across the Aisle)

  1. DGS says:

    Always enjoy the interviews, Cranky.

    Now call Glen up and ask when they’ll start offer 10x EQMs to us Atlanta fliers after the SWA/Airtran merger announcement this morning. :D

  2. interesting series w/ DL execs brett, seems like quite a coup for you. you also did a great job leveraging it into interesting content. hope you hit the original chik-fil-a (the “dwarf house”) across the street from DL HQ!

  3. “””””We’re figuring out how to recognize the highest yielding customers. “””””

    That’s easy, stop tracking people my miles flown and start tracking by money paid for the ticket. A person flys roundtrip once a week at $100 a ticket will get treated better then the person who flys once a month and spends $700 on that last minute ticket, but they gave the airline more money.

    • CF says:

      Not that easy. If you go to a straight revenue system, the person who pays $100 for a 500 mile flight gets the same recognition as the person who pays $100 for a 2,000 mile flight.

  4. Whoa. Great read. From Anchorage, of course, we take special note of DL’s enhanced role w/AS. When DL stopped PDX-HNL, AS moved right in. All in the family, I guess.

  5. Well, with the exception of the Marine terminal weren’t they going to be keeping their existing terminal at LGA? Just connecting it with US Airways’ existing terminal AFAIK..

    • CF says:

      I believe there was a partial terminal swap involved as well, but I don’t recall exactly.

      • AFAIK, Delta was going to take over US Airways’ terminal and keep their own terminal. The Marine Air Terminal would be going go US Airways for their Shuttle operation, and the non-shuttle operations of US Airways would squeeze into terminal C. (Who they were planning on shaking down for a gate there, I don’t know..

  6. D-E-L-T-A Don’t Expect Luggage To Arrive Doesn’t Even Leave The Airport

  7. Aaron says:

    I remember as a kid we would make a yearly trip to Bozeman Montana from SFO, and Delta was the only carrier at the time. There was never a trip that Delta didn’t botch. One year they simply canceled the flight and didn’t tell us. This was before the internet, but we never got a phone call.

    I’m not a business traveler (I travel about 50 days out of the year) and I wrote all my experiences down in a little blog http://hilarioustravel.blogspot.com/

    I chose United to be loyal to for the VIP perks, and mostly because Delta had left me with such a bad taste in my mouth.

  8. Bruce says:

    I’m still wondering why DL serves Monrovia by flying backwards 600 miles from Accra on the ATL-ACC run. And the same on the return — eastward from ROB to ACC, then ACC-ATL to the west. There must be a damn good reason, because ROB could logically be served as an extension in the right direction on the JFK-Dakar flight. Pan Am did it that way for years. The DL backhaul makes no sense.

    • CF says:

      I don’t know the answer, but there are a lot of things that go into this. It could be an issue with freedoms to fly between the two countries. It could be an operational issue. It could be related to crew layovers. Pan Am had a lot of privileges that others don’t necessarily have. I don’t know the specific answer here, but I imagine there is a good reason somewhere.

  9. Brett,

    I’ve really enjoyed your Delta series, and especially this article with their top network executive. Delta is the most interesting US airline to me right now for a lot of reasons, and your look inside has been great reading.

    • CF says:

      Thanks, Marshall. Continental/United might become a lot more interesting once the merger comes together, but for now, I agree. Delta is the most interesting around. (Though Southwest and the AirTran purchase certainly are up there now.)

  10. CP says:

    Much less CEO-y language than your JetBlue across-the-aisle.

  11. Jason H says:

    Ahh.. if only DL would move to Terminal A here in DEN instead of being stuck in the WN hell.. I mean hall.. of Terminal C. Everyone else has moved, but DL’s 5 gates are hard to secure in Terminal A. Too bad AirTran only has 1 gate and Mexicana only had 1.

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