Topic of the Week: Fancy Gate Transfer By Car

American, Delta, United

First in the US, it was Delta and its Porsches. Then it was United and its Mercedes fleet. Now we have American and its Cadillacs. The great race to keep US travelers away from the teeming masses continues. Now if you’re a super elite or fancy pants flier on these airlines, you might find a car waiting to whisk you between gates at the hubs. But if you’re a top tier traveler, do you care? Let’s hear your experiences.

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35 comments on “Topic of the Week: Fancy Gate Transfer By Car

    1. David – I don’t know the answer to that. I know we have some, as evidenced by the comments below. But there’s a wide variety of readers here.

  1. I’m DL Platinum, so not elite enough for this, but by all means, keep it coming. Anything they can do to make our lives easier – even if it’s not my life yet – is a good idea.

  2. Also a DL platinum. Have never had the pleasure. My perspective is that if I don’t have a minimum connection, I’d rather stretch my legs or sit in a sky club. If minimum time, it’s nice. A very cool perk for feeling like a 1%er until you realize you spend way too much of your life in an aluminum tube. I’d rather see drinks or better snacks in economy comfort as even platinums struggle for upgrades…

  3. What a waste of money that the airlines always cry about not having. Can’t see anyone not flying just because they have to WALK to a connecting gate. If they feel they need a limo to connect gates, then they should be rich enough to just own/charter a private jet and not need to connect with the masses in the first place.

    1. Did this start because elites were wishing it existed, or because the airlines were trying to attract/retain more corporate customers?

    2. Yes and no. The advantage of many of these programs for the high value customer is making connections, especially international connections, that are often tight. It is part of the reason why Emirates offers it; they want to be able to ensure passengers that are making expensive First class trips that they can make it to their connecting flight.

      While yes, most of these individuals could take a corporate jet or have a private jet, if they are going international, it is unlikely their fleet has the capability to do so. Part of the problem is one of airlines own making; how they decide to bank and connect flights, and the often obtuse gate placement of many flights making many of these alleged layovers often times impossible.

    3. Sean S. is correct.

      This is about competing for competing with the high end foreign carriers. The mere fact that foreign carriers offer it puts US carriers at a disadvantage if they don’t.

      Sean S. is also right on the economics of a corporate jet fleet. It’s one thing to own or charter a Learjet or a Cessna Citation that costs $3k or so per hour to operate, and use it to go places that are within 2-3 hours of your home base.

      Wanna take a Gulfstream V on a transoceanic trip? The last time I priced one out was $8k/hr, so a n/s flight to HKG from the east coast iis going to set you back $240,000. Even Europe is roughly $112,000.

      When International F tickets price out at $10k-$15k or so, you’ve got some ‘splainin to do if you’re just one person traveling. (If you can fill the plane, and really would have spent cash otherwise, then the plane can make more sense.)

  4. Given the airlines’ shifting back to a “banked” hub system with increasingly tight connections (a disaster waiting to happen if you ask me, but that’s an argument for another day), and increased load factors that can make re-accommodation difficult, I think these types of services make sense. If I needed every minute I could get in the office here in Dallas on my way to India, but the only way to do that was a sub-90 minute connection in ORD, EWR, or another delay-prone airport with long walks between gates, then yes, I’d absolutely appreciate the service. Heck, if I were one of the majors, I’d be trying to find a way to make this an ancillary fee source for non-super elites; I’d gladly pay for a car service between gates if I had no choice but to book a tight connection.

    But I’m with Noah. I prefer longer connections, and would rather spend some downtime in an AAdmirals Club than stress that I’m going to miss a connection because my incoming flight on a 50-minute layover at ORD can’t find an open gate.

  5. My DL Gold status is far from “top tier” so I prob. won’t ever see this but I wonder about the backlash. The divide between the haves and have-nots in the world of air travel continues to grow. The amenities up front keep getting better and better all the time while the back is stuck in neutral. It wasn’t all that long ago when First Class meant only a bigger seat and better meal, now it’s truly a class upon itself, which is fine, but I wonder if airlines are showing too much favoritism to select customers. It should be top priority that ALL passengers make their connections and a private express shuttle for elites screams a little too loudly that the unwashed masses in the back of the bus don’t matter (as much). News flash to the airlines, their business model will not work without all those poor saps in the back paying $500/seat to be stuffed in like cattle and abused for 2+ hours.

  6. I typically make connections outside of the US, and try to avoid connections if at all possible. If there is a connection included in my itinerary I’d rather have some lounge time, and – especially after an overnight flight – some shower and breakfast time prior to boarding again. I am a Diamond MM and recently connected from Athens, Greece through JFK to ATL. I walked to the lounge and was not offered a car option.

  7. Great, just what we need, more wild and crazy vehicles flitting from plane to plane on the active flight-line.

    Of course, I’m sure the airlines will hire only the best companies with the classiest drivers. We are talking about the airline industry, aren’t we? I’m thinking of the intra-terminal and parking lot shuttles at just about any airport I’ve used.

    Now, if I’m actually paying a couple of thousands of dollars for a ticket (I’m not), I could imagine I would look very favorably on anything more than what the airlines are delivering with thier premium class services these days,

  8. I’m a 4MM and my wife will be a 2MM soon. Both have always been Diamond since they started it. Delta has picked up the two of us together 4 or 5 times. They have picked me up another 5 times or so. They meet you in the jetway so as soon as you step off the plane you go down the steps to where the car is. Never for connection as we live in ATL, but they will take us to car where parked or to bag claim if have checked bags. Driver told us once Porsche and Delta have a deal to please higher mileage folks and also expose potential buyers to Porsche. It’s nice of them to do but I’d rather have more availability for the supposedly great international upgrade certs for business that they give Diamond. I have never been able to use them even when booking months ahead.

    1. So a win-win for the customer and car company. Sounds like a good perk for people who have literally circled the earth 100+ times in a plane. Never something I will see though.

  9. On American and United these are only offered to their “by-invitation only” group of travel influencers and some folks who spend upwards of $40K per year.

    As an American Executive Platinum and United 1K, neither airline has lifted a finger to help me make tight connections, even to the last flight of the night in paid first.

    Whenever possible, I book long connections. Sitting in the lounge for a couple hours is better than being stuck overnight.

  10. I’m top tier with both UA and AA, although not Global Services with UA, because that is reserved for companies that spend millions. I don’t qualify for the car service, but the only reason I might even want it is if there is a tight connection (I’ve missed flights where I had to run across ORD and wasn’t at my connecting gate 10 minutes before departure, so even though the aircraft was sitting there, with the jet bridge in place, I was left stranded at 11:30 pm).

    So, cars are great to make connections. Otherwise, airlines hurt concessionaires and airports directly (and themselves indirectly, possibly, depending on how their rate structure is set up) by syphoning off the richest few who might spend money at the airport. To segregate these travelers and potentially eliminate the possibility that they shop or dine is a negative. One could argue that these super-frequent flyers may not shop at airports (a statement I can neither support or refute with facts), but even the potential is eliminated, and that is a negative for all stakeholders who depend on this source of non-aviation revenue.

    Thanks CF.

  11. I’m a Premier Platinum guy on United so I’ll never see this level of service in my lifetime. One would think that these American flagship airlines would use a top-notch American car to help deliver their dear ones to the assigned spot in time. I witnessed an elderly couple last year at ORD get treated to this service after having walked between the B terminal and the C terminal and back due to United cancelling/changing flights. Clearly, they deserved some consideration and were, in my eyes, eventually treated right by the airline. It does, however, leave a bad taste with the others when this type of service has to be demanded by an irate top-notch one or two – the others, left behind, clearly are the chopped-liver variety.

  12. I remember when the old Continental Airlines, “The Proud Bird with the Golden
    Tail” had a white Checker cab at Ohare. If you had a close connection, it didn’t matter if you were a K fare or a F fare, they used the cab for every class of passenger.

    1. Airports in the US are sida restricted outside of passenger but most airports allow escorts which allow a cleared and trained person to escort non security cleared people into certain security zones.

  13. I’m a UAL Global Services and used the service at ORD. Took us right to the United Club. It was really cool.

  14. I’m nowhere near the top tiers but maybe I can still share some thoughts. I was a lowly Silver with Northwest for years but have not been able to gain that level with Delta thanks to their ever increasing requirements and “elite inflation.” In any case, it doesn’t seem that DL offers ANY perks to the bottom rung of “elite” flyers. Silver’s are not mentioned in the boarding process and I’d be very supprised if a Silver made it into the first class cabin on an upgrade. A slow day maybe. I was upgraded to the front cabin by NW about 2/3 of the time, often before I even checked in … as a Silver! As several people have mentioned here, I’d much rather have food/drinks in the club instead of a Porche, Cadillac, etc.

  15. The airline will tout this great service it provides to its elite customers. However, the service will be outsorced to a contract operator with the name of the airline on the car and uniform of the driver. But if you’re injured or worse in an accident, the airline will say it’s not their fault. That car and driver belong to the company that injured you. The service will have as part of it’s name “Express”, “Connection” or “Eagle”

  16. I am Diamond with Delta and have been picked up a couple of times when I had connection times shrink down to <20 minutes due to IROPs of some sort.

    The drivers are not fancy pants limo drivers rather just veteran DL employees who have been rewarded with this job for years of service (at least 30 in my experience). The stories that pass in those 5 and 10 minute rides are a lot of fun and these are people having a good time and interested in getting you there on time. It is a great service.

    1. It’s fascinating to hear that it is simply long serving Delta employees. I imagine it would be pretty sweet to drive a Porsche around and be let free from your typical obligations for a day or two to drive around. It does double duty of pleasing pax, and giving a fun time off for employees.

  17. I’m Global on United and have only experienced this once, with a tight connection at ORD from a B or C gate out to the smaller connectors in the E/F terminal. It was a Mercedes…but a Mercedes minivan, but I appreciated the lift instead of having to run.

  18. As much fun as I would have riding in one as a total airline dork. It is a real waste of money. I really wish just a little bit of this kind of energy went into improving the coach experience. I really think (hope) if some of the airlines would give us a little dignity, we would pay a little more for it. I know the American more legroom campaign failed miserably but that was over 10 years ago. Times have definitely changed.

    1. Honestly, at least in this point of my life, I care most about price. Not saying I love the current condition of coach, but I certainly don’t hate it, and it beats not being able to afford to fly at all. The airlines would be better off working on premium economy for those who are willing to pay more for a better experience.

  19. I’m Exec PLat on AA. We have a car/bus that shuttles us between D (mainline) and C (Envoy/Eagle) concourses at LGA, to avoid having to go through TSA twice (Admiral’s Club is only in D). Use of that shuttle doesn’t appear to be elite-related but you’d at least have to be an AC member. AA had contemplated building a new small club in C but Port Authority put that on what appears to be a permanent hold.

  20. I am a Diamond Medallion on Delta, and I have yet to receive the perk when connecting. I asked a couple of times what it takes to get the ride (more out of curiosity than by sense of entitlement), and I didn’t get a straight response. One person told me that you had to be a Million Miler, while the other said it was random for Diamond Medallions.

    For what it’s worth, they once had an electric golf cart waiting for me at MSP when I was on a tight connection, but the other gate was close enough that I walked it.

  21. I’m original UA 1K, never have been offered and don’t expect to. Generally, for UA it’s only offered – sometimes – for Global’s. I don’t exactly get it. A Global Services member is going to NOT fly UA because of the car or lack thereof? If you’re a Global customers, you’re in and probably not going to throw those perks away because UA doesn’t offer a car and Airline X does. So don’t really see the value frankly.

  22. Got driven to the plane by Lufthansa a couple of times at the FRA First Class Terminal, and got driven a couple of months ago by one of UA’s Mercedes between terminals at EWR (even though I was “only” a 1K traveling in business class and so would not normally have gotten this – but the inter-terminal train was down for maintenance so transfers were more of a hassle than usual). Based on these experiences I’d say it’s nice but by no means at the top of my list of perks I value most; I value things like a lounge with decent food offerings and a shower (= very few lounges in the US) far more than a fancy ride to the plane. I do think US airlines in particular can do a better job of providing some personal attention to customers on tight connections. I’m still amazed with my experience in 2006 at VIE, transfering from OS to LH. My inbound flight was late, leaving me only 10 minutes or so for the connection. No way am I going to make it, I thought, until I saw a van at the bottom of the stairs with a driver holding a sign with my name. He took me straight to the aircraft for the connecting flight. This was especially impressive because: 1) there was even an immigration official in the van to take care of border formalities while we drove over to the connecting flight (I was coming from outside the Schengen area and connecting to an intra-Schengen flight, which would normally require going through passport control); 2) I had no status at the time, just a UA Mileage Plus general member traveling on an award ticket; and 3) there were two airlines involved (LH bought OS later but back then they were two entirely separate companies – not that a US carrier could manage this even transferring between its own flights.)

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