3 Links I Love: Delta Keeps Shooting Itself in the Foot, Value Alliance, and Dubuque

Delta, Links I Love

This week’s featured link(s):
Delta’s Comfort+ upgrades could turn into frequent flyer problemRunway Girl Network
Delta to end sponsorship of Fox Theatre over Qatar Airways event with JLoAJC@ATL Blog
Airline wars wound Seattle Pride Parade marchersSeattle Times
I’m not sure why Delta keeps shooting itself in the foot, but this was a bad week for the airline from a PR perspective… three times over.

First came the reality that Comfort+ seating is worse for elites than it was before. Delta now sells Comfort+ as a separate cabin (for flights starting last Monday), so elites have to “upgrade” for free into Comfort+. For lower level elites (and now, even high level elites that have a companion that is at a lower level) that doesn’t happen at the time of booking. If you say you want the upgrade and it clears, you might get stuck in a middle seat. The kicker? The only way to go back to the aisle or window you might have had is to call Delta and hope it’s still there. It can’t be done online.

Then Delta got into a fight with the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, a place it has sponsored for years. See, the theater hosted an event for Qatar Airways to celebrate its new entry into the Atlanta market. Delta got mad and immediately pulled its long time sponsorship. Someone at Delta got too emotional and failed to stop this bad PR move. Does pouting and pulling support of a beloved local institution help Delta’s cause to stop subsidized Middle Eastern carriers from flying to the US? No. If anything, it just lines locals residents up against Delta. If the airline wants to focus on stopping Middle East carriers, then all of its efforts should be focused on that goal. This does nothing but hurt its cause.

Lastly, there’s the gay pride parade kerfuffle in Seattle. It seems Delta has signed on as the exclusive airline sponsor, and that was reported to mean that the folks at Alaska who have supported it for years are no longer allowed to show any corporate identity at all if they want to be in the parade. Later reports say this wasn’t true, but the damage was done. Delta looks like the bad guy.

Bad week for Delta.

Links I Love

Singapore Airlines’ Low-Cost Carriers, Others Start AllianceBloomberg
The sign a low cost carrier that’s struggling? It tries to build an alliance with other low cost carriers to share traffic. But what is interesting here is the underlying technology that allows people to book (including ancillary services) across different carriers without a GDS. That’s the real news here.

New Dubuque airport terminal done 6 months early, under budgetUSA Today
Anytime an airport project comes in early and under budget ($37 million vs $40 million), I want to praise it. But when it’s an airport that has 3 flights a day from American Eagle? I just don’t see how this helps get new service for Dubuque. Hopefully it doesn’t push its remaining service away.

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33 comments on “3 Links I Love: Delta Keeps Shooting Itself in the Foot, Value Alliance, and Dubuque

  1. As a Delta PM i’m certainly no fan of the upgrade process, and I can only imagine its worse for gold and especially silver. For a trip next week I unchecked the C+ upgrade for my return flights as only middles were available, luckily at DL ‘Time of Booking’ can mean anything from 15 minutes to 12 hours in my experience so far. I continued checking the seat map for some windows to open up before rechecking the upgrade option and being able to get one of those windows. Declining the upgrade is possible, but it’s more work than should need to be done by the customer. If they can block windows/aisles but not middles in specific rows as preferred seats they should be able to give medallions the ability to only take the upgrade if a window/aisle is available.

    1. LMS – And let’s not forget that Delta won’t let you monitor for seat assignments to come available, as nearly every other airline does on ExpertFlyer. So that makes it even harder that you have to do it manually.

  2. Brett’s prediction of Delta having so few problems that it would likely create its own problems didn’t take long to come to fruition in a major way this week! The C+ upgrade process not allowing a px to replace a C+ middle with a non C+ window or aisle is patently absurd.

    1. It’s so true. That plus the fact that their winning streak is probably making them feel a little bit invincible. It seems like Delta has no problem burning bridges these days. I’m curious the impact that could have the next time we see a major downturn. It will be interesting to see who has their back, or if one-time allies pile on them

    2. I love this line from Delta’s web site: “All seats in Delta Comfort+ are part of our premium experience.”

      1. Those tasty premium snacks that are picked over by the time they get to you, as well as begging for a free drink, really adds to the premium experience.

        The things we do for a couple extra inches of legroom. Do I miss the premium flying experience? No. Free me from the fees….

  3. One can always vote with their wallets.

    The whole frequent flyer system on every mainline airline has more rules than the IRS tax code. It’s been so entrenched into the entire flying experience that it’s like an addictive drug. You need to fly an airline to keep up your status, gain some miles that now are harder to use and cost more to use, upgrades that are harder to get and with conditions like DL is imposing. Since I haven’t been flying much this year (thank God), I don’t really care if I revert back to Silver from Platinum. I’ll probably drop my DL Amex card at the end of the year since I’m not getting anything of value from it.

    1. That may have been true with 7 or 8 robust competitors but now with an oligopoly of 4 (3 for those unwilling to conform to the southwest experience), it is much more difficult for the consumer to do so.

  4. As a lower level DL elite (Silver) I’ve reduced my travel to only necessary trips and likely won’t even get silver next year. I’m ok with that since the benefits of anything below Diamond are virtually nil. I’ve long argued that FF status should be 100% based on dollars spent and nothing else. Consistently getting the shaft because I only did 30-40k miles but per Delta’s own accounting I’m way past the Diamond elite spend level is absurd. Further eroding of the slim benefits I do get make traveling that last minute CRJ into Anytown USA even less palatable.

  5. Let me start this by saying I do not work for DL or any affiliated company. I did want to comment on the Fox Theatre issue though. This was a smart business move by DL. Who over at the theatre did not think to ask the question “I wonder if by having one of DL’s worst enemies events here it might upset a very long time sponsor?”. DL essentially saved the Fox and then they turn around and host this event? I would have pulled my funding also. It is obvious the Fox does not care about the relationship DL has forged with them. Do you think someone at Qatar thought about sticking it to DL by having this at the Fox because of the DL sponsorship?? I don’t see this as bad PR but corporate responsibility of sponsoring places that view it as a true partnership. Shame on the Fox on this one, not Delta.

    1. JW – I can see how Delta might not want to continue sponsoring the Fox, but from a PR perspective, making it a knee-jerk reaction only hurts Delta in the public eye. The right way to suspend sponsorship, if Delta really thinks that’s necessary, is to just wait until the the contract is up and notify them that they aren’t doing it. Then leak something to the local media about it so that other institutions know how Delta is going to handle this stuff. But doing it when it did just made it blow up into a “Delta sucks” story.

      1. Passing politely and instead making a big scene makes it perfectly clear that Delta is a huge part of the Atlanta community. Organizations that haven’t thought through the implications of ticking off Delta and its employees should be prepared for the repercussions. Qatar or any other airline simply doesn’t have the interest in Atlanta to replace what Delta has invested over the years and what its people will do to support Atlanta organizations. Qatar Airways has made it very clear that their intent in every step of the process of adding service to Atlanta – which can only exist by deep discounting and without feed from DL – is to slap DL in the face every chance QR gets since DL raised the issue about QR’s subsidies.

        No, CF, DL did the right thing to protect their business interests and every other organization in Atlanta will never again say “we didn’t realize the industry dynamics that were at play in our decision to accept an event by one of Delta’s competitors.”

    2. I agree. If I were in charge of marketing I would have politely passed due to conflict of interest, and referred them to another venue.

      But this story and it replicating is a perfect example of the “Streisand Effect”, and now people remember it, and Delta comes off as a bully.

    3. its unfair to assume that the booking agent at the Fox knows who Qatar is, or that AAB and Anderson have been fighting. Not everyone is an #avgeek.

      should every business in Atlanta now stop refusing to do business with Pepsi, since CCE sponsors everything too??

    4. DL did not “essentially” save the Fox. A grassroots group did after a huge public outcry. Check into the history further, please.

      Do not take this rare preservation victory away from the wonderful ordinary people who saved this great building from demolition just to argue a point.

      Further, DL’s recent sponsorship of the Fox was comparatively minor. DL looks like a bully on this one, sadly. Great company, foolish behavior.


    5. If Qatar wants to throw away a bunch of money on an event inaugurating what will probably be a money-losing route, why should DL do anything other than laugh? Booking another event makes the theater less reliant on the sponsor, and presumably Qatar didn’t get a discount. Unless there’s something in the sponsorship contract prohibiting the venue from hosting (at full price) events from other airlines, Delta’s being nothing but a bully and deserves to look like an ass.

  6. I flew DL this week-last minute trip-my preferred carrier had no seats. Anyway I tried to buy into Comfort Plus both on the website and the gate. No joy. At the gate the agent apologized, but said they don’t have any clue on how to try to do that at the gate, mainly because DL rolled this out with minimum training. What I find amazing is I was willing to give them money to upgrade, yet the website wouldn’t allow it, and the gate agents have no clue on how to do it.(not the gate agents fault) I know most people for some strange reason love DL, but this experience just reinforces my preference to never fly them if at all possible.

    1. this is not an upgrade any longer that can be purchased. now that it is an actual fare you essentially have to buy a new ticket. there are no change fees since you would be buying up to a higher fare. So if this happens again, don’t ask them to buy an upgrade but you have to ask them to buy the higher fare. Since this is not an “ancillary” anymore it is like buying a different ticket

      1. Well, if you ask a gate agent to pay to upgrade to first class (if there are seats of course) they can do that relatively easily and understand what ‘upgrade’ means. If C+ is just a separate class then one would think that upgrading to that should be the same or very similar process.

  7. This statement by the Fox sums it best for me:
    Hosting a private function for Qatar Airways “was in no way a violation of our contractual agreement with Delta,” according to the Fox. “As we are not in tune with the industry politics of our sponsors, we are disheartened to learn that Delta has chosen to penalize the Fox Theatre for our decision to rent the venue to another airline.”

    I nominate DL for the Cranky Jackass award for this move.

  8. Good point about Dubuque. I thought the same thing about Niagara Falls’ new airport terminal (yes it has one) but it got us Allegiant and Spirit and there is no way they would have come if facility costs were high. The old terminal was just like Dubuque, only 50 people could fit post security so discouraged any carrier with larger planes to even think about landing there.

  9. The “you will like it” unfriendly C+ process and 2 sponsorship faux pas reinforce Brett’s characterization of Delta as the “My Way or the Highway” carrier. Unfortunately, Delta’s success only reinforces its bully behavior. Its actions with respect to its “partner” Alaska further documents it. As a Seattle-based frequent flier, the more acrimonious C+ process and bully behavior versus Alaska and its frequent fliers (e.g., no longer recognizing Alaska FF status on Delta), only makes me less likely to choose Delta. I still have Silver status with Delta (mainly due to international flights), but that status provides no real benefits. Long-term, I have to believe that Delta would get further if it acted with less of a heavy hand, especially dealing with sensitive or difficult issues.

    1. Delta obviously has to respond to its customer base but let’s keep in mind that Delta gets the highest yield of any large US carrier and also has the highest market cap. As much as some like to believe that Delta is the bully, they are doing what they are doing from a position of considerable strength. We have heard multiple times over the past few years that Delta is the bully that is forcing change upon its customers and Delta will suffer for it – but that hasn’t happened. While it is hard to believe that Delta can continue to offer an upgrade product that is uncompetitive with its peers’ processes, DL did revise its transcon upgrade policy as a result of customer feedback and DL has continued to increase its share as well as overall revenue in the JFK transcon markets. Speak up about customer service issues. And it should have been apparent that consolidation would result in reduced frequent flyer benefits and that is exactly what is happening; with the most mature merger and very strong revenue performance, Delta just happens to be in a position to tighten frequent flyer benefits – but other carriers will do the same eventually.

      As for the Seattle parade issue, both Delta and the parade sponsors said they did not exclude Alaska employees; someone either made the statement without support and has been overruled or this is a whole lot of nothing. The parade sponsorship does apparently grant exclusivity which no one has denied – but the implications of that apparently don’t exclude Alaska employees even in Alaska attire. The Fox theater incident is simply about a company protecting its sponsorship investment of many years from a competitor that couldn’t come upwiht a dozen employees who will commit to volunteering in the Atlanta community but can throw thousands of Qatar government dollars – if they really believe it is worth their while. Since there are also multiple billboards throughout Atlanta (as well as other US cities) decrying human rights in Qatar, this might not be the coup for Qatar that some people might make it out to be

      1. Hey, you (do you work for Delta?) seem to be unaware or ignorant of the fact that the organization President of the Gay Pride parade told Alaska that they could not wear any Alaska logo or show any Alaska emblems, signs, etc. which turned out to be false and he has since resigned. Check out facts before you speak.

        1. I haven’t followed the twists and turns of this whole bizarre story, so, no, I did not know that someone finally accepted responsibility in the “I didn’t say anything” blame game about this parade.

          But thank you for your information because it apparently validates that it was the parade organizers and not Delta that said that Alaska employees could not march with their logo.

          It is a whole lot easier to pin the blame on big bad Delta and argue that it was yet another marketing flop for them, isn’t it?

          I’m just about discussing the accuracy of what actually occurred. If it was Delta’s fault, then pin the blame on them. Since the early reports of this event had conflicting reports about who said what, then the greater part of valor would have been to say that “AS employees believe they were told they could not march with Alaska logos in the Seattle Pride Parade in which Delta has taken over as sponsor…. but there remain unanswered questions.”

          IN contrast, it is pretty easy to say with accuracy that Delta’s C+ upgrade process does not allow a customer to opt in only if they can have a window or aisle or that DL terminated its sponsorship of the Fox Theater over the QR concert.

  10. Although this is a thread on Delta, as an Exec Platinum on American, this just reinforces the fact that unless you are top tier elite, it just isn’t worth the hassle to maintain status on the big 3 mainline carriers. If I wasn’t Exec Platinum, 99% of my upgrades wouldn’t have cleared. I’m fully prepared to switch to Southwest if i’m not able to maintain Exec Platinum. At least I know I can maintain A-list status based on number of flights, and hopefully qualify for the companion pass in a good year of travel. Flying on Southwest isn’t optimal for me (greyhound of the sky), but I’ll have more control over where I sit (most of the time).

    1. I’ll disagree with you on this Sean. I bounce between Silver and Gold on UA, and while Silver doesn’t get you much, I think UA treats its Premier members much better than DL or AA. True UA went to a miles, and/or segment, and dollars spent on determining your level-but the requirements particularly for Silver and Gold aren’t that hard to make if you’re a “Road Warrior” like a lot of us who patronize this site are. Also I’ve never had a problem using miles to get free trips, or to upgrade to First. Heck, on some trips the FA’s up front come into the Economy Plus section-where most Premier members sit if not in First, and give out free fresh baked cookies!
      All in all-I rate UA the best for it’s treatment of its elites-whatever their level

  11. The problem with Delta specifically is that it’s management beginning with former CEO Anderson (a former prosecuting attorney which says it all) has a ‘take no prisoner’ approach to business. It sees competitors as adversaries, not competitors. It has a paranoid, bully, antagonistic approach to business. It, for the most part, unless your one of those 100 grand a year spenders doesn’t care for you, the customer and despises healthy competition. This is fact. They think they can just ‘buy’ their way into Seattle for example. Sorry to say, Alaska has been a respected family member of Seattle and Northwest culture for decades. Us Seattleites aren’t fooled by their inappropriate tactics.

    1. And, once again, the evidence is very strong that Delta has built a decent sized hub in Seattle in a fairly short period of time including high frequency service in some of Alaska’s top markets and is getting average fares as good as or better than Alaska in those markets.

      That couldn’t happen if Delta were not providing a product that people were willing to pay for.

      There were a whole lot of people who have tried to argue that either Alaska or Delta would be hurt in Delta’s build-up of Seattle and yet the evidence seems to say that both are managing to coexist in the marketplace and attract their own groups of loyal passengers who each pay decent fares.

      The same thing is taking place on the national stage as well. DL is getting top tier fares and is one of the most highly valued airlines in the world. Companies that generate premium revenues and are exceeding their analysts and the market’s expectations can be gutsy in rewriting the rules of the industry; it is no different from what has happened in other industries where premium prices and valuation are at play.

      Sponsorship marketng deals are common, many of them require or grant exclusivity, and it was a given that DL would gain increasing numbers of sponsorships where it would displace AS in its drive to be a major player in the Alaska marketplace.

      It is a shame this process included a parade about diversity with the result that some people and not just businesses got hurt but the whole process of DL’s growth is going to challenge AS’ position of dominance in their hometown and there will be more of those types of skirmishes, exactly what should be expected in business.

  12. With the new upgrade policy Delta has once again demonstrated they have no appreciation, or respect, for customer met loyalty. As a multi-decade Delta customer with nearly million miles I have experienced a consistent pattern of declining customer service spun as a positive by Delta. I suppose there is something to be said for that consistency.

  13. A belated comment on the new upgrade process: this is what I saw at SLC last Friday. A gate agent PA’ed a passenger to come to the gate counter. She asked the passenger if he would like to have an upgrade to a Comfort+ middle seat or keep his exit-row window seat. I didn’t hear the guy’s response clearly, but I believe he happily declined the upgrade. ;-)

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