Delta Tempts Fate as It Triples Down on Health and Safety

Delta, Safety/Security

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Though airlines have rarely been willing to go down this path before, Delta decided early on that it was going to bank on making health and safety a differentiator through this pandemic. That plan has now gone into overdrive with the airline announcing it has hired away Dr Henry Ting from the Mayo Clinic to be its newly-created Chief Health Officer. As a marketing strategy, Delta’s fixation in this area may pay off, but it could also backfire in more ways than one.

In recent history, airlines have been very hesitant to market based on health and safety, primarily because it’s impossible to control. Back in the early days, airlines talked about being safe, because they had to reassure a skeptical public on behalf of the industry as a whole. But as soon as there was an accident — and there were a lot of them in those days — that message became hugely problematic. This continued well beyond when you think it would have become irrelevant.

This Time article points back to the 1980s when Pan Am talked about being safe… until a terrorist bombing brought down flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. You just don’t see those kinds of arguments anymore, because the risk isn’t worth the reward in an era where pretty much all US airlines are viewed as safe. Of course, health was never much of an issue, so the focus was more on aircraft safety. That has now changed dramatically during the pandemic.

It can be argued that health as a differentiator is different from the traditional definition of safety. It isn’t identical, of course, but there are important similarities. Of course, it won’t be as dramatic when something goes wrong. The shock value isn’t the same as when an airplane crashes and scores are killed instantly. But the potential for disaster is still there, and avoiding a health-related problem is largely out of the airline’s control.

That’s not to say that the industry shouldn’t be talking about health precautions on the whole. Yes, all airlines have cuddled up with a variety of partners ranging from Clorox to the Mayo Clinic. American has received GBAC certification. United has “earned” some other presumably bogus certification. (I see Delta has received this as well now.) All of this helps airlines to present an aura of safety about flying in general, but the airlines aren’t saying that they are better than others, implicitly or explicitly. They’re just trying to say that flying in general is safe and they are taking steps to make sure you understand that. If someone gets sick, they won’t be happy, but it won’t be a PR disaster. This is where I see Delta having gone in a different direction than the others.

Delta started off by aggressively talking about its cleanliness efforts, and it took a stand on blocking middle seats. None of that crossed a line. When I really started scratching my head was when the airline decided to reassign Mike Medeiros to become VP of Global Cleanliness. This seemed like a knee-jerk reaction that went further than necessary to reassure people during what is a temporary pandemic impact. (When this actually ends… well, that’s unclear. Let’s just hope it’s not “temporary” like the 30+ year old Dulles midfield concourse.)

Then, by not ending the block on middle seats despite there being limited health benefit, Delta has now tried to step further away from the pack by marketing itself as safer to fly than the others. I don’t think it was the right move, but if there is a marketing benefit to be had, Delta is the one getting it. But now, Delta has gone way beyond this by hiring an actual Chief Health Officer away from the Mayo Clinic.

If Delta wanted to make a statement, it has done so. But who is actually listening to this statement? The customers that are paying attention are those who will be hyper-sensitive to flying these days. Yes, the blocked middle seats help reassure some people even though it provides a negligible benefit in preventing the transmission of disease. When that ends as it inevitably must, Delta will be left with little meaningful differentiation except for having two well-paid execs. Other attempts to leverage having a CHO might not go so well.

Chances are the Chief Health Officer will be largely forgotten externally until there’s an outbreak of any kind that’s tied to a Delta flight. Sure, Delta can clean its airplanes, but there is always a risk of significant disease transmission onboard, albeit not a large one for all airlines. If that were to happen and it turned into a super-spreader event, well, Dr. Ting is going to be in high demand. This isn’t just about COVID-19. Anyone getting severely sick and/or dying on an airplane can easily become news, and the spotlight will shine on Delta’s efforts. It won’t be a good look when it happens.

The problem is that no matter what Delta does, it still can’t always control what happens, just as is the case with airlines and accidents. People board airplanes sick all the time, and it’s possible they don’t get anyone else sick on the airplane. But airplanes transport people from one end of the world to the other, and that means they are the vessels that allow for spread. Take that first US case of the Brazilian variant of COVID-19 that showed up in Minneapolis/St Paul. You think they walked into the US? Nope, that came via airplane. And while I don’t know which airline was flown, the fact that it was a local resident returning from Brazil means it’s entirely possible that Delta was the vessel. Why couldn’t the Chief Health Officer stop that? (I’m not serious, but you get the point.)

That’s just the customer impact. Now, think about employees. There are several employee causes related to health and safety that have generally been pushed out of the limelight. Lately, so-called “fume events” have started to get more airplay. That’s what happens when toxic chemicals seep into the air on an airplane, usually due to a maintenance issue related to the bleed air system. The LA Times recently did a piece on this that, while having some issues, still brings attention to the problem. And there’s even a movie out from a former British Airways pilot called Everybody Flies that I previewed talking about the impact on crews.

Pilots and flight attendants have had concerns about these events for years, and now that Delta has a Chief Health Officer, there’s no reason to think that labor won’t try to use that as a way to get something done about it. The problem is… there isn’t much Delta can do. Short of ordering a fleet of 787s — the one current generation aircraft that doesn’t use engine bleed air — Delta can’t really do anything except fix the problem when it occurs.

All of this could be a negative, but is there a positive? It’s possible. If Delta is able to make strides to improve health and safety — and if people still care about that once the pandemic is over — then it will benefit. I just have a hard time understanding how that happens. Once the pandemic is over, I expect most people will just stop paying attention… except for labor groups. That could create headaches for the airline for years to come while customers go back to looking for cheap and convenient options.

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54 comments on “Delta Tempts Fate as It Triples Down on Health and Safety

        1. I saw the title of this and thought…dear God, its going to be another Tim Dunn ponderous rant-fest.

          Comedy Gold

  1. I think a lot of this is tied to perception. I’ve mentioned it before, but after 9/11, carriers had to convince a skittish public it was safe to fly. Same story today (albeit for very different reasons). Will this translate into an sort of durable loyalty? Time’ll tell, I guess. DL has worked to brand itself as a lifestyle and luxury brand (much like Apple has done), so maybe?

    BTW, they didn’t just name an exec to the Cleanliness spot- they stood up an entire new division.

    I can say that management is taking employee health/wellness seriously right now. Maybe it’s altruistic, probably not. Either way, this might be the first time in 20+ years where there are no questions asked when people call off. I hope that’s permanent.

    1. Kevin – Thanks for the internal perspective. If they can actually put their money where their mouths are, then that will be a different story internally. I don’t think it will matter externally, but it could help make employees happier.

      Where I think I maybe wasn’t clear enough based on some notes I’ve received is toward the end. My concern is not that Delta is implying that it is going to address employee health and safety more seriously. That’s great.
      My concern is that I think it’s going to be hard to actually achieve that.
      Talking about bleed air, for example, is not something that Delta can fix.
      It’s an aircraft thing. So, how can it say it’s serious about health when it can’t address something that’s a real concern for crews? It just creates more leverage for labor in negotiations without actually accomplishing anything. Or so I fear.

  2. I am thinking that the vast majority of people who are avoiding flying aren’t going to be swayed to get on an airplane by this move. Nor will it sway those already flying.

    Wasted move by a company that wants to look like it’s “doing something”.

    1. Agreed. I know of several people that are so afraid of Covid they largely haven’t left their homes in almost a year. Hiring some doc from the Mayo isn’t going to get them on a flight. Remember, they are afraid to walk through the airport, let alone get in a confined space like an airplane. The middle seat blocking is something that I like as a frequent flier. Nobody likes to rub shoulders with a stranger. That would get me to pick DL, all other things being equal, but it has nothing to do with “health” for me personally. My guess is I’m far from alone in that opinion. Those getting on flights right now are not the faction of people that are scared to death of the virus. I get what Delta is trying to do here but I’m not sure there is anything any airline can do to get that faction of former travelers back in the air. Seems like they are grasping here but I’m sure UA, AA, WN, et. al. will follow suit with something similar.

      1. Agreed, but I might add that a certain percentage may never fly again no matter what safety measures are in place & there’s nothing the airlines can do about that.

    2. I’m not certain that’s true. I know many business folks who are still avoiding it or are not allowed to will want to be as careful as possible when they come back. I know as somebody who is an avid flier (miss it dearly), and unfortunately loyal to AA, if this differentiation still exists, I’ll go out of my way to fly on Delta even for the attempt at trying even though it’s hubs (I don’t live in a hub city for really anybody) are not at all convenient for me.

      So to your point, no this won’t make people voluntarily fly immediately. It will however influence decisions as people come back. Just like the issue with most business schools folks (I have an MBA, so I’m acutely aware), we focus on the short term instead of the longer term strategies.

      1. I’ve been a whole lot of places since the pandemic began, in my job. People fall into two camps: those who are worried about it and those that are not. Those opinions are hardened in stone by now, and in many cases they are tinged with political beliefs.

        If you are worried about it, or your company isn’t flying much right now, hiring some dude from the Mayo Clinic is not going to change your mind.

        People who are afraid of COVID aren’t going to travel again until they think it’s safe to do so…Mayo Clinic expert or not…middle seat or not.

        This is just a feel good thing from Delta. Look! We are making it safe! But for those that are afraid of the virus, this won’t change one mind.

  3. First, the vast majority of the traveling world doesn’t and won’t know about this newly created position. You are doing more to push DL’s news of this new position out to a larger world beyond what reads DL’s press releases than DL could do by themselves.

    Second, I doubt if anyone, including the corporate accounts that DL is trying to win over on a long term basis, see a couple hundred thousand dollar salary as excessive in light of the tens of billions of dollars in revenue that DL alone missed in 2020, even if his package turns out to be much higher – and it will be. The notion that consumers always choose price over every other factor even in a low demand, highly competitive environment is simply not supported by real data during the pandemic era.

    Third, DL’s premium revenue strategy that includes blocking seats but still operating a strong hub-focused schedule with significantly reduced costs clearly made financial sense not just in the 4th quarter but in all of 2020 on an operating cost basis. DL cut costs on a long-term basis which resulted in billions of dollars in charges yet sets DL up for lower costs long-term. DL’s 25% yield premium to UA shows that customers are willing to pay MUCH MORE for DL services compared to its peers than they were before. DL managed to cut unit costs well below AA and UA’s levels and within a few percent of the low cost carriers.
    DL will eventually stop blocking seats and they obviously fully intend to keep as much of their revenue premium as possible. Based on normal demand and DL’s full network, even a 5% revenue premium is worth billions per year; DL’s higher margins than most of the industry pre-covid were directly attributed to its ability to generate revenue premiums.

    Fourth, the pandemic proved the vulnerability of the airline industry but really all public spaces to the spread of disease. I personally will feel a whole lot more comfortable knowing that DL will keep fogging aircraft long after covid is history – and that is just one strategy they say they will keep. Countries like Taiwan did far better than the rest of the world because they knew there were problems in Wuhan long before China, the WHO, or any other country knew it. If there is a public health expert who is Asia-focused – where the majority of global public health emergencies this century has originated – then DL might have an advantage.

    Finally, your repetitive article obsession with finding fault with DL’s strategies is, um, unhealthy.

    1. The last line of your post is what I find…ironic. Talking about repetitive posting. Really? I’ve noticed that you have started spreading to other sites regurgitating your same DL love, and of course, shoe-horning it into any conversation, regardless of the topic. Yes, you will claim everything is based on facts, and then present only the side of the “facts” that only tangentially relate to what is being discussed. Once again, this is CF’s site. He can certainly write whatever he wants, whenever he wants. I can also assure you that if you were to quit posting here, there wouldn’t be one person that missed it. We could probably create AI to just auto post a “DL Awesome, UA/AA Bad” response, and just move on with our day. If you cannot take a step back and have a reasonable view of current decisions being made by airlines (or any businesses for that matter), then I would greatly warn anyone that utilizes any of your advice from seekingalpha. It is perfectly okay to actually look at things for what they are and not always try to misdirect in an attempt to prove your own biases.

    2. As a near daily reader I fail to see any bias toward or against one specific carrier company or another. Notable exceptions are Alitalia (deserved) and American West (historic in nature). As for the message board respondents, perhaps a mirror is in order.

      I will say one thing about the hire in question: the jurisdiction of the Chief Health Officer seems to also include occupational health and safety. This isn’t a bad thing for employees and as long as the jurisdiction includes their health and safety and not just the flying public, this isn’t a bad thing to have a seat at the big table. Workplace injuries are costly, mental health is costly, and the right strategy could really pay dividends.

      1. That is “America West”. I sat in on a few group interviews back in the day. If an applicant said “I want to work for American West”, or Hughes Air Western, they pretty much lost it. If you don’t know the name of the company you are interviewing for, you aren’t doing it right.

          1. Actually “American West” is entirely appropriate since the HP management leveraged that into a takeover of larger US and then leveraged that combined carrier into a takeover of larger AA…

            Hence American West!

    3. Oh bless you child, just put the DL-sourced propaganda material back in your filing cabinet for now. This is not about yield premiums and demand. The article correctly points out that DL and all other airlines are really nothing more than a blip in the overall economy. They have a limited effect to helping the upside of this pandemic (very few people are excited about stepping on a plane in the first place), but carry a huge burden on the negative side (it’s a metal tube with recirculating air, after all), especially financially.

      So DL can insulate themselves and do what they do best on the PR propaganda front, but it’s nothing more than superficial RIGHT NOW. I think the real benefit will be in the future once COVID is behind us, people MAY remember about DL’s efforts when booking their next trip. But that’s it.

  4. I can genuinely appreciate that airlines, in general, are trying to promote that they are trying to lessen the impact of the virus as much as possible. However, I think we’re at the point that there aren’t really that many more customers to be won back to flying until this is “over”. Meaning, those that have to/want to fly are doing so and the rest are waiting. This has been going on for 11 months now. I could have understood this approach 2-3 months in. But this far, I’m scratching my head to the actual purpose too. I feel that people have made up their minds at this point and Delta is being, for lack of a better word, overdramatic.

    1. Not to thread the needle here, but I think a LOT of people want to get back in the air, but aren’t because there’s nothing to do at their destination.

      1. I could agree with that too. But I still don’t think that airlines are going to make that much of a difference in that regard.

        1. Oh, there’s definitely people that won’t ever fly again, and there’s some that have been flying all along. Obviously two extreme ends of the spectrum.

          I just think that most of the “not flying”crowd are staying home more because of shutdowns than out of fear.

    2. I get where you are coming from Pilotaaron1, but three months in to the pandemic there was far less awareness of the serious nature of this virus. However as you stated so well… ” I feel that people have made up their minds at this point and Delta is being, for lack of a better word, overdramatic.” That’s because the jet has already left the gate & there’s little else the airlines can do beyond feel good PR to sooth the public.

  5. agree this particular move is mostly “virus theatre.” that being said, DL’s attitude towards the virus as a whole would persuade me to book DL for my next flight. I flew AA this summer and the flight was at 100% capacity, every single seat filled. Didn’t catch the virus, so all is well that ends well?, but despite the HEPA filters and masks, it was definitely unsettling to be packed in like that. American can claim they care and are doing everything within their power to mitigate spread, but their decision to end middle seat blocking a whole 9 months ahead of Delta hammered home the message that they can’t even pretend to care the second a dollar is on the line.

    I disagree with you that this is risky move on Delta’s part. If airlines advertise on basis of safety record and then have crash, agreed that is very bad looks. But, with the virus, transmission is nearly impossible to trace and pin down. Its not like a cruise ship where an outbreak happens within the span of one cruise and you end up with a floating lord of the flies disaster zone. Any transmission that happens on a flight wouldn’t show up for 5-10 days after the plane lands. And at that point, who’s to say whether people got sick on the plane, in the uber to the airport, at line for TSA, or at the grocery store a day after? Plus a crash dominates global headlines for months, but at this point a handful more people being diagnosed with coronavirus is hardly breaking news and would not come back to haunt DL in the same way (if it came back to them at all).

    I flew DL transcontinental twice this summer out of necessity. They did great job onboard but their setup at JFK was a hot mess. Bag drop line was 25-30 minute wait with zero distancing. Employees on break in the concourse were shooting the breeze without masks. Purell dispencers were all empty. The ‘ticketed passengers only’ rule in T4 head house was not being enforced and one man at the mouth of TSA stood there to see his family off and projectile coughed on everyone else entering TSA.

    1. “Any transmission that happens on a flight wouldn’t show up for 5-10 days after the plane lands. And at that point, who’s to say whether people got sick on the plane, in the uber to the airport, at line for TSA, or at the grocery store a day after? Plus a crash dominates global headlines for months, but at this point a handful more people being diagnosed with coronavirus is hardly breaking news and would not come back to haunt DL in the same way (if it came back to them at all).”

      As tracing improves the ability to find a zero point also will improve. If a spread can be traced to an airport for instance, the media will run with it & the airlines cant do a darn thing about it no matter how much they clean or say they clean their planes. The public will see the news story & that’s it. Keep in mind I made this example up on the fly to illustrate just how much little power the airlines really have despite what programs they put into place to calm the public as it is really theatre at this point.

      1. gotcha. I see your point. Maybe I’m just pessimistic but I don’t foresee US contact tracing evolving to become that precise, pervasive, or reliable before vaccination reaches critical mass and pandemic begins drawing to a close. Crossing my fingers that the pandemic does in fact draw to a close at some point in 2021. Theoretically, we as a country have all of the tech, talent, and wealth to do a good job contact tracing, but I am not convinced there’s an appetite for that in US. Countries like South Korea, Vietnam, Japan, and China have done an incredible job with contact tracing from almost day 1. I suspect the issue is more cultural (Americans largely seem to be not ok with widespread use of mobile phone data to track obedience) as opposed to just improving contact tracing best practices. At this point, it seems like the virus is out of the box here, so to speak, and I am not sure our country’s response is going to get much more coherent or effective (aside from deploying the vaccine).

        Again, open to being wrong, but I get the impression that if COVID were to spread on a plane, only a handful of people in close proximity to the infected passenger would get it because of how relatively effective HEPA filters paired with masks are. Perhaps that changes as more contagious strains land here. But, generally I think the fallout from a story of a few people getting COVID on a flight would be exponentially smaller than fallout from a hull loss or similar incident where a few hundred are dead / severely injured. I am also not so sure the average news consumer (outside the world of avgeeks) would be cognizant that Delta’s had hired a Chief Health Officer or was even using health safety as a differentiating point.

        But, I don’t want to get lost in the details. Ultimately, I understand where you are coming from and agree that companies in general should be careful not to over-promise on matters safety or health as it really just stands to make them look worse if something were to go wrong.

  6. All any business can do is what it thinks is best. Contrary to the wishes of many people, there’s no magic bullet when it comes to curbing the spread of viruses. I know a couple of people who’ve taken all the precautions, yet still contracted COVID-19. One was the owner of the Arizona Cardinals. Another person, an acquaintance of mine, contracted the disease in a surgical center and died from it. Logically, one would think a medical facility would be the best possible place to avoid disease, but the opposite is usually true.

  7. On behalf of everybody else who actually read your comment, the yield premium is largely attributable to much lower capacity, as has been stated here ad nauseum. In a year from now when that becomes obvious even to you, you’ll no doubt have moved on to a shiny new strawman.

    You’re the exact kind of fanboy that would be impressed by this. Nobody else cares. As far as strategy goes, companies really don’t need to spend anything to impress already loyal fanboys.

    Speaking of unhealthy, if you don’t like the content of the blog, don’t read it. Repeatedly insulting the author of the blog just shows the rest of us the level at which you operate.

  8. A day without a Tim comment is like a day without, well, whatever.

    I see on Seeking Alpha, his “comments” there now total more than 10,000. Hard to believe, or maybe not. On Tim’s latest monthly article, if I may quote its title: “Alaska and JetBlue: Two Coasts, Two Strategies, Different Outcomes,” one commenter noted that Tim, on this an article about Alaska and JetBlue, managed to mention Delta 32 times, none of which indicated any kind of negative issue for Delta. That comment seemed just so point on! But, I know, data, where is it?

    But anyway, Covid. Do our concerns end anytime soon? Do we all just forget about flying. Maybe so, I still watch Old Faithful spout off everyday, with the help of a National Park Service webcam, and I don’t need to see it in person again. Is that it, the end?

    Of course, there are people to see, things to do, which really do require travel. But, personally, I believe this all requires National Emergency, World Emergency action. I just feel that this is way more than any one person, one airline, one industry, one State governor, one President or his or her political party, can dent and fix. All hands on deck. Or maybe, we can just have Amazon fly every one of its planes, and maybe those of FedEx and UPS, too, and sprinkle some magic dust over the world, and, voila!

  9. If I had to fly, I’d fly Delta because of their extra space. I have heard this from other people who aren’t loyal to them. However, we all fall into the camp of not going anywhere until vaccinated unless it’s an emergency.

    Maybe this pays off in goodwill in the future, but most people who fly will do anything to save a buck.

  10. Hey CF,
    I hope you have enjoyed reading the responses to your article; I have.
    There are a lot of “I think”s on this page including from you… but, with all due respect, it really doesn’t matter what you, me, or Adam’s housecat think. It may make us feel better spouting our opinions on the internet for someone hundreds of miles away to read – but I’m not sure what the real purpose of the article was. Do you expect that Delta will change its mind, are you using it as the basis to set up a short on DAL stock…?
    Your article is forward thinking so there isn’t as much data that can be used to argue whether your position is right or not. You do incorporate – and your article specifically cited things that are factual and not just opinions. We’re all entitled to opinions. We need to do appropriate follow-up, evaluate whether we were right with the opinion we made at a specific point in time and then admit if we are not. We can all “guess” on what we think the future will look like but we can’t ignore the facts that define the past. There is a lot of data behind the articles you write.

    First, hiring Dr. Ting for Delta isn’t just a “covid position” and they never said it was. You make comments that no one will care about the position when covid is past. You then argue that people will care about the things like fume events and the people that seem to be most interested in caring will be labor. You seem to legitimately believe that the world will go back to where it was regarding health and sharing common space when covid is over – and yet I find very, very few people that legitimately believe that.
    Note that Dr. Ting is a doctor but also has an MBA; you can bet your bottom dollar that his position involves not just a “feel good” figurehead position but some real quantifiable metrics related not just to Delta’s belief that health and safety will be more important than ever but also that Dr. Ting has a personal role in meeting whatever goals that Delta – and Dr. Ting – thinks Delta needs to become a stronger and more financially successful business.
    Delta will use metrics to measure its success as being perceived as a “more healthy” airline. Delta is a business as is the entire rest of the U.S. airline industry. They run their business based on what generates the best returns for its shareholders. You and others might want to create a narrow time and metric definition of success to say that Delta’s seat blocking strategy didn’t work – even for a period of time – but there are more than enough metrics that are available on a complete basis that show that Delta’s covid strategy has worked – and a lot better than other airlines. Whether some people want to argue that “those statistics aren’t what really matters,” the stock market by its own valuations and movements in specific airline stocks says DL is doing a better job than most of its peers. The same thing will be the case with Delta’s belief that it will be a safer and healthier airline. Either they will have metrics to back up their claim or they will eliminate Dr. Ting’s position and quit what you think is a charade.
    Regarding demand, it is absolutely a given that a certain amount of demand will be off the table for months if not years to come, both as a result of technology and changed work processes but also because the world’s economy has been harmed and air travel ALWAYS takes time to recover after a major macroeconomic shock. Given those realities, it seems noteworthy that you laud other airlines for trying “new things” with routes but you don’t think that DL’s “new thing” of a healthier focus is worthy of consideration as something that could turn out well, just as any of those other airline routes could.
    I’m really quite fascinated by your fatalistic approach to life. In one breath you say that there isn’t much that anyone can do about disease – even while previously telling us that you haven’t traveled for months, in part to protect others. Forgive me but that doesn’t seem like those two statements fit. If you don’t think there is anything you could have done about covid, why didn’t you just go on living your life as you previously did? Of course, there is something that you and I and everyone else can do about covid and you made logical and rational choices based on your situation. Why would you think that America or the world or Delta should hopelessly accept whatever next health crisis comes along? And one will be coming?
    As for fume events, I suspect that if you actually talked to engine manufacturers or maintenance people they would tell you there are very much things that can be done to eliminate or reduce the likelihood of fume events – and many carriers are doing those things, including maintaining and inspecting engine seals, not overfilling oil and cleaning up spills, and putting in place certain flight operations procedures. The world isn’t hopelessly subjected to just being the victim of bad fortune and bad events. We as a race are incredibly capable of identifying and fixing threats to our existence and well-being and to creating our own happiness – and doing the same for others, sometimes profiting by fixing other people’s problems. Delta clearly is not fatalistic and they don’t see Dr. Ting’s position as window dressing to make people just feel better about an event that is possibly winding down (at least that is what death and case data suggest and the vaccine is intended to do).
    I will also go out on a not-very -long limb and believe that Dr. Ting will defer to DL’s maintenance people on fume events issues based on the items you highlighted; he simply isn’t trained on aircraft systems. If it comes down to the effect of chemicals in the workplace or on airplanes, then he might take a role but to think that fume events will even be singularly on his top 100 is more than a stretch. Oh, and look at the incidence of fume events among US airlines. NONE of the big 3 have even average numbers of incidents of fume events – and I strongly suspect it has to do with the size and scope of their IN HOUSE maintenance capabilities.
    As for hyperbole, help us understand what “fate Delta is tempting” with hiring this doctor? You didn’t expand at what is at risk other than a potential nothing burger and no one who replied seemed to think there is any more risk than that Delta might waste time and money and make a scene over something that the vast majority of Delta passengers or investors will ever know a thing about. Help us understand the fate statement, please. No one seems to see any fate that Delta is tempting.
    As for data and the use of it, I get that people get tired of data being thrown around which they – or you – think is irrelevant. That’s ok to doubt. I was disappointed that the conversation about SEC vs. DOT data sources from airlines got dropped. You argued in your article about DL’s seat blocking strategy that you didn’t trust airline-provided quarterly financials re: yield and average fare data so you wanted to use average fare data. When I suggested NYC-CHI and CHI to ATL as markets that all of the big 4 airlines serve and also noted that Delta still had the highest average fare even in the 3rd quarter (latest DOT average fare data), you dismissed those markets.
    I’d love for you to finish your thought on those markets but more than that I would love for you to lay out an approach to the use of data that you want to use not just in your own articles but you want others to use. We can all debate airline liveries or the quality of food service because that is all subjective – and no one’s opinion is any less important than anyone else’s. But there are some things that are measurable – such as whether seat blocking or Tokyo vs. Seoul hub strategies – that are measurable. It would be very helpful, esp, in light of helping to determine the value of your article here – the metrics that you think are acceptable to measure, down the road, whether your article was right or not about Dr. Ting – assuming you are willing to revisit the subject. Or should we just view this article as an opinion piece that isn’t backed up by data and doesn’t present anything measurable now or in the future?
    And one final thing about data. Seems like articles on Seeking Alpha are now the “thing” elsewhere on the web to highlight here. Since the comment about one was made, it is worth noting that Alaska and JetBlue (ALK and JBLU) are the primary companies about that article – since their ticker symbols are in bold at the top of the article. American, as a partner to both ALK and JBLU, and Delta, as the largest network competitors to both ALK and JBLU, are secondary subjects of the article and the fact that their ticker symbols are not in bold show that. JBLU or JetBlue is the most frequently found words of the four airlines in that article while ALK and Alaska are second. Both of those are multiples of times more frequently noted than American, the 3rd most frequently noted airline or Delta, the last of four in the article. Note also at the top of that article it says “editors’ picks” and, at the bottom, that if a reader disagrees with the article, they are free to submit their own. The strength of free speech is the ability of all to speak; that site just requires articles to be reviewed by a group of financial journalists to get published.
    Thanks for your article today and for the pleasure of your readers’ comments. Thanks most of all for not being so wedded to your opinions that you can’t accept comments that don’t mirror your own thoughts. Not everyone agrees with all everyone writes. At least I didn’t and won’t call you what someone put at the end of the seat blocking article.
    Hope you have had a great day!

    1. Tim – Congratulations, you have finally pushed me to a breaking point.  As of this afternoon I have now added a 3,000 character count for all comments.  I am also temporarily moderating all of your posts before they get published. If that makes you less likely to comment, so be it. I had said previously that I would be taking action to preserve the character of the comment section, and this is the first and hopefully last step I need to take. I will not hesitate to take further action if required.

      I have no interest in addressing your numerous points, so I will just say this. This has been and always will be an opinion blog. Some of those opinions will be supported by fact. Some will not, because not everything can be supported by fact. That’s the way it is, so you can save the 9,000+ character lecture every time my opinion does not align with yours.

      1. “that’s all you needed to say – “This has been and always will be an opinion blog” which is why no one really cares what you, me or anyone thinks.”

        The most puerile Cranky Flier comment ever, Adam. Congratulations. You were up against some stiff competition. Obviously, many people care about Cranky’s opinions, from daily readers of this blog to media outlets that seek his comment on airline industry happenings. I would respectfully submit that your comment indicates that your time investment in navigating to this site, reading this post, reading the comments, and then writing a comment reveals that even you care about what Cranky thinks.

    2. The largest annual loss of any airline in history outside of bankruptcy = Delta Airlines in 2020

      See how short and to-the-point comments can be Tim?

    3. It is pretty obvious that the blog exists for the amusement of the author and his readers. Cranky has never engaged in vigorous, prolonged debate, probably because he has a day job, a family, and other obligations/interests that are far more rewarding than sparring with petulant readers.

      Why are comments allowed? Historically readers have used them to make brief comments, ask short questions, and seek clarification. The use of them to create self-aggrandizing, pedantic tomes and/or to chastise the author is a new phenomenon.

  11. Not that you need to hear it from us to feel validated, Cranky, but just to be clear…

    99% of us generally respect and value your opinions and analyses, even if we may respectfully disagree with them on occasion. If we didn’t value the content on this blog, we wouldn’t read it or take the time to comment on it, and I know there are many of us who have been loyal readers for many, many years.

    Even those who appear to be arguing and putting down your work must still respect your opinions and influence in a perverse way; if they didn’t, it wouldn’t be worth their time to respond. :-)

    1. Ditto Killroy. Cranky is da man even if I occasionally disagree with him. As for Tim, I’m… Dunn with him.

  12. This isn’t directed at anyone personally. It’s a general observation. There’s a tendency on many media platforms nowadays (to be clear, not this one) to present opinions as facts. I define a fact as something that’s irrefutable, such as, “It’s hot in Phoenix in July.” Anyone who’s been to Phoenix in July knows that’s almost always true. Opinions are conclusions, beliefs, judgments, ideas, notions. One hopes they’re based on sound information, but they aren’t always.

    In my opinion, part of the problem we have in today’s society is our apparent inability to agree about the facts surrounding a particular issue. But even when there’s a modicum of consensus, reasonable people often form different opinions based on the same data. That’s because we have different life experiences, educational, cultural, and religious backgrounds, and grew up at different times. As a “Baby-boomer” who grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, I tend to see the world differently than those who grew up in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, or early 2000s. I remember seeing Lockheed Constellations (in my opinion, one of the true masterpieces of industrial design) flying regularly. I also remember when the first Boeing 707s and Douglas DC-8s flew. My dad took us out to O’Hare Field when it first opened. Naturally, my opinions are shaped by those experiences.

    It’s important to respect others’ right to their views, especially those we disagree with. I enjoy reading everyone’s perspectives (even Tim’s) even though I disagree with aspects of many of them at times. I happen to enjoy challenging my preconceived notions. This would be a very boring world if everyone saw everything the same way. But, as more than one pundit has observed, “We’re all entitled to our opinions, but we aren’t entitled to our own facts.”

    1. Off topic, but I’m glad I’m not the only one who is a huge fan of the look of the Connie & Super Connie. No two fuselage frames on those planes seem to be alike, and the plane just seems to be a porpoise or dolphin trying to jump out of the water… Absolutely gorgeous.

      One of these days I need to make my way out to the museum in Kansas City to see one in person.

  13. Everyone please stop acknowledging these comments, and then the troll will hopefully get bored and move on. I have begun deleting some of these posts, and I will continue to patrol this despite efforts to get around moderation.

  14. To an outside observer, at first glance, it’s not clear to me that “Tim Dunn” did anything wrong, other than having a lot to say. This year has challenged each of us to rethink what we value. I encourage everyone to have that conversation.

  15. I haven’t flown too much during the pandemic, but when I’ve needed to I always make a point to fly Delta. Even if blocking middle seats provides a negligible health benefit, if the option is between flying with a guaranteed open seat next to you or flying with a full plane, I’m *OF COURSE* going to choose guaranteed open seat every time.

    1. Lift459 – You say “of course” you’d choose the guaranteed middle, but is that the case even if the cost is substantially more?

    2. Has anyone done a study on blocking middle seats providing a negligible or large health benefit? It sort of startles me to hear Cranky continue to pooh-pooh Delta’s action in this area so much that I ask if his opinion is due to a doubt of science or dollar over health position he wishes Delta would take? In addition to reducing proximity, blocking middle seats reduces overall number of people on a plane. I’m not a scientist, but I’m pretty sure that 70% capacity vs 100% capacity has to be a lower risk of covid transmission. Why knock a better pax experience too?

      Knock Delta for factual actions (lack of award calendar, union-busting, older aircraft, sub-par Wifi, or even not using this doctor’s advice once that has been established.)

      Hopefully Cranky can make amends and interview Dr. Ting and hear from him directly on what his role entails and plans are. Until then, this post is beyond cynical and frankly bizarre; we should be encouraging any company to elevate health measures and doing things differently.

      1. Neal – Yes, they have. The study I covered back in Oct looked at aerosol transmission and didn’t find a significant benefit: https://crankyflier.com/2020/10/20/quantifying-the-incredibly-unlikely-transmission-of-covid-on-airplanes/

        There was also a middle seat blocking study from MIT that found a benefit, yes, but it ultimately showed that your chances of getting sick on the airplane are very small. Chances of getting sick on a full flight are 1 in 4,300 while chances with a blocked middle seat are 1 in 7,700. Either way, you’re more likely to get hit with a falling piece of space debris than get sick on an airplane.
        https://mitsloan.mit.edu/ideas-made-to-matter/study-empty-middle-seats-make-flying-safer-during-covid-19

        We’ve also seen very few cases of inflight transmission except for a handful of well-documented cases. The bigger problem with travel is that it transports sick people from one place to another, furthering the spread in different geographies. Inflight transmission is not the problem.
        Either way, if Delta wants to highlight safety, even one case of inflight transmission will make the airline look bad.

        I see no reason to “make amends” here. It’s an opinion that I have not changed. But I have been in talks with Delta about talking to Dr Ting. If that happens, you’ll see it here.

  16. https://www.instagram.com/p/CGXYBbJjJmM/ United seems to be temping fate with their messaging, even more so than Delta. This October, 2020 Instagram from United’s account says “What is your risk of exposure to COVID-19 on an airplane? Almost non-existent” Over ¾ a million people follow United on Instagram, so I am betting that post got some pretty serious reach.

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