3 Links I Love: Emailing Ed, United Goes Electric Again, Spirit’s Strategy, Suing Burbank

BUR - Burbank, Delta, Links I Love, Spirit, United

This Week’s Featured Link

‘The volumes are beyond anything we have ever seen’: Delta hold times won’t improve until fallUSA Today
This is fantastic. On the earnings call, USA Today’s Dawn Gilbertson asked Delta how people should reach the airline considering its phone hold times are crazy long and it stopped responding to Twitter direct messages. CEO Ed Bastian said people can email him. Seriously. Now presumably he has another email address that he actually uses, but he must have a team responding to ed.bastian@delta.com. So, give it a shot and see if you get a response. If this is what the airline is resorting to, it’s got problems.

Image of the Week

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Now this is a cool-looking airplane. Of all the orders United has placed for future aircraft, this is the one that gets me most excited. An electric 19-seater has plenty of uses, and the ES-19 from Sweden’s Heart Aerospace seems like it might become a real airplane… I hope.

Two for the Road

Spirit’s network chief explains the airline’s 11-destination mid-pandemic growth spurtTPG
Here’s a good interview with Spirit’s VP of Network Planning John Kirby about the airline’s network strategy.

Los Angeles Sues FAA Over Burbank Airport’s New TerminalSan Fernando Valley Business Journal
Absolutely brutal. Burbank has been trying to build a new terminal for decades, and now the city of LA feels like making it another few decades.

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26 comments on “3 Links I Love: Emailing Ed, United Goes Electric Again, Spirit’s Strategy, Suing Burbank

  1. Nine hours to get a CSR on the phone? Wow. Not sure if I feel worse for the passengers who need help and can’t get it or for the CSRs who are doing the best they can (and likely being forced into working mandatory overtime) but get yelled at from pax who have literally waited all day to get someone from Delta on the phone.

    Delta has to be very, very careful here. It feels like Delta is still the media/public darling in terms of airline customer service, but between the mass cancellations of flights over holiday weekends and the publicity surrounding phone hold times, Delta may be one spark (or one viral video that gets played over and over on the news channels) away from its polished reputation flaking away faster than the skin of a pale Minnesotan without sunscreen on a beach vacation.

    1. I am one of those passengers and it has been an absolute nightmare. The amount of largesse and good faith I’ve given them over the years has completely evaporated. For example, all of their AI bots are worthless and direct PAX to their website to make reservation changes and guess what, the site doesn’t actually work. Finally got through to an agent via Apple Message (took 12 hours), he said, yeah, site isn’t working for your reservation and he needed to open a ticket with IT. After a week, IT fixed the issue so I could change my reservation. You can’t tout your flexibility in reservations, elimination of change fees, etc., if you can’t actually functionally make it work.

      They have completely dropped the ball. I was against paying the CARES money to the airlines directly (instead of directly to employees) as I suspected the airlines would squander it. If the governments been paying salaries all this time, where did all the employees go?

      I never thought I’d say that UA’s a better run airline from a consumer perspective, but Kirby knows what he’s doing.

    2. In the early days of the pandemic, I spent a lot of time suggesting that customers simply come to the airport to make their changes (assuming they were okay with doing so).

      It was surprising how that never occurred to many people.

  2. I’m sure “someone” will be along shortly to explain with metrics x,y, and z how any sort of issue DL is having doesn’t really matter. Might actually be a benefit to the airline. It’s patrons now how time to sit and really reflect on how honored they are to be able to fly with an airline like DL. This is way better than not having as much time to think about these things as the customers calling in to those much lesser airlines (AA and UA). I mean how do their planes even stay in the air, amiright?

  3. It’s 2021. People still do stuff like this over the phone? I haven’t even written a paper check in fifteen plus years. I refinanced my house entirely electronically. Hell, you can order a Big Mac and have it show up at your door without even getting up off your couch much less deal with a minimum wage high school kid snarling at your order.

    I realize not everyone has smart phones and laptops. But unless Delta only has five CSR’s working for the entire airline, I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this much less feeling sorry.

    And besides. Another reason to avoid verbal phone calls as much as possible: they leave no record. In the event of a dispute, it’s ‘he said/she said’.

    Good luck getting any resolution that way. Creates a whole new problem. At least everything done electronically leaves a trail of documentation that you can print and/or store. Always CYA. I don’t trust anyone.

    And then…nine hours?

    No thanks.

    1. I’ve had very good results using DL’s website to handle cancellations and schedule changes on routine domestic trips.

      But for a multi-city itinerary, especially if partner airlines and/or international travel are involved, you either need a human at the airline or a travel agent. Or Cranky Concierge… (and no, I’m not getting paid for the plug :-)

      1. I’m like you; I hate talking to people. I refused to rent from Enterprise back in the day because I saw no need to interact with one of their overly ambitious 22 year old associates. If their website actually could process changes on a multi-city itinerary, I assure you, I would have absolutely done it.

  4. While it is beyond silly for a CEO to suggest that emailing him is a reasonable workaround for resolving standard customer service issues, the reality is that the majority of customers on any airline do not ever need to talk to res in order to complete their journey. Anecdotally very long hold times might grab headlines but the vast majority of companies in the US – not just airlines – are delivering far lower levels of quality than they have in the past despite – and perhaps because of – huge amounts of government aid.
    The US DOT does measure more than a half dozen types of airline operational performance but res hold times are not one of them. The two that are cited the most are on-time and cancellation rates. Delta finished 2020 and the first quarter of 2021 with the best on-time and lowest cancellation rates of the US mainland based airlines – Hawaiian consistently has the best on-time. In other words, even when Delta had operational problems, they performed better than their competitors. This summer, Delta is cancelling and delaying a fraction of the percentage of flights compared to their competitors.
    While DOT statistics lag by a couple months, they have shown that the same “pecking order” of performance for most categories they measure has returned to pre-covid levels which show that Delta consistently performs better than American and United in most categories by a fairly wide margin while Southwest does better in customer complaint and baggage handling (the latter esp. since the DOT changed the ratio to bags carried rather than passengers carried.)
    The US needs to fix customer service issues and Delta needs to fix its res call wait time performance. In the perspective of all of the issues that the airline industry is facing, the number of passengers impacted by long hold times is de minimis compared to other airline service issues.

    1. I would wager that EVERY carrier’s call centers have been inundated. Complex refunds, expiring credits, changing flight schedules and the continued deferral of international services are clearly the culprits behind this. To single-out Delta is patently unfair in this case.

      When the industry’s June performance figures are released, I predict Delta will have the fewest cancellations of the Big 4. Flight Aware reports that Delta canceled just 106 flights in June. Southwest canceled 2,687 flights in June, according to Flight Aware. Compare those numbers: DELTA 106, SOUTHWEST 2,687. That’s nearly 100 cancellations A DAY for Southwest. Flight Aware also reports Southwest delayed 34,250 flights in June. Over 1,000 delays per DAY.

      Media reports indicate Southwest blames weather for their woes. Frankly, I don’t believe it. Southwest had to contend with the same weather as the other carriers. I think they blame it on weather so that they don’t have to provide hotel rooms for stranded passengers. Southwest shares “hub” cities with American (PHX and Dallas), United (Chicago, Denver, and Houston) and, to a lesser extent, Delta, (ATL and SLC). Are we to believe it only thunderstormed on Midway, but not O’Hare? Hobby, but not Bush? Only stormed on the Southwest gates in Denver, but not on United’s? And only stormed on Terminal C in ATL, but nowhere else on the airport???

      In all my years of flying on Southwest, I have never seen such a debacle in their operation. Worse, even, than American, I genuinely believe. We will see what the final data indicates.

  5. Great links this week. I love the ES-19 concept, not sure where Mesa would fly them for UA Express (if Wikipedia is accurate, UAX’s smallest plane right now is 50 seats), but it’ll be interesting to see. (Just from an avgeek perspective I’d rather see the Boom Overture become a reality, but this is more practical.)

    On Spirit, their growth plans are aggressive bordering on insane (I admire their boldness in marching into MIA), but can they really double in size in the next rive years? That’s a lot of growth. I just looked at their November new routes here in TPA and all four are already served by Southwest (with Breeze also flying to Louisville and Frontier to MKE.) I know Florida routes have a reputation for being bottomless pits of demand, but there has to be a limit somewhere. Could they also be aiming to head off Breeze (not just in Tampa but overall?)

    1. On the ES-19 potential markets for UA Express, an economical 19-seater can bring service from smaller markets to hubs, which just cannot sustain service with a 50-seater, such as abandoned LAX markets Palmdale, Carlsbad and Catalina. It can also provide shuttle service to feed from other nearby airports to provide better network effects to suburban airports. Think hourly shuttles between LAX and BUR, ONT, SNA, PSP, SAN, SLO and SBA. As a former dispatcher of Beech 1900s, I used to call these flights “Parking Lot Shuttles”, since they save people the aggravation of driving to and parking at the more expensive and traffic choked hub. One could argue these folks should take an airport shuttle bus, but a truly economical 19-seater could save passengers all the ground side hassles of LAX and similar hubs.

      Of course this savings in ground side resources must be balanced by adequate facilities on the air side. That’s tricky at LAX, but with smaller passenger counts, these aircraft can cycle through a gate much faster than a larger aircraft, so the load on gate infrastructure is less than one might expect. A normal 19-seater can get by with half the length of a major runway, so further adaptation is possible. Launch one from mid-runway (“intersection departure”), and fifteen seconds later, launch another from full-length. You’ll still end up meeting air traffic separation minimums, with both time and altitude separation. The standard approaches and departures already account for efficient separation between high altitude jets and lower altitude props, so air traffic control is already ready. It’s an open question whether there will be enough pilots for such service, but these flights provide the “minor leagues” where pilots develop the experience to join the major airlines. We must include a living crew wage in the economic assessment of these markets.

      An efficient electric 19-seater could bring back all the economic value of commuter airlines, without the carbon guilt.

      1. I’m excited about the concept too, and I’m sure the airlines like the fact that they don’t need a flight attendant on a 19-seater. But for quick turns: I wonder how quickly they’ll be able to charge? Can they get a full charge in a 30-minute turn?

        They’ll presumably have to install charging infrastructure at every airport that uses them, but that’s presumably not a big deal at all in the scheme of things. Don’t need nearly as many chargers as are needed for electric cars to be viable.

          1. Exactly.

            Such a system is VERY widespread in industrial applications for forklifts (buy an extra set of batteries + a few spares, have batteries that last a little more than half a shift and take about as long to charge, swap the batteries during lunch and between shifts).

            On the consumer side, the best example that I can come up with is pre-filled propane cylinder exchanges (Blue Rhino is a common brand). They are only 15# of gas, and usually cost the same or more compared to having a local hardware store refill a 20# propane tank while you wait, but the convenience of saving a few minutes by simply swapping an empty tank with a full tank at the nearest grocery/convenience store appears to make the additional cost well worth it for many people.

            I’ve also heard that a “quick swap” battery exchange program or two are in development for electric cars, and while I don’t doubt that, the challenge (as always) will be overcoming the chicken-and-egg problem by building up enough “critical mass” infrastructure quickly to support the program.

          2. This is the same idea companies in Australia are already working on for “hot swap” battery packs for freight trucks running between cities in the Southwest. They’re looking for a network from south Queensland to Melbourne initially, extending to Adelaide later.

  6. I will say I find the Delta thing laughable although I don’t really have a horse in the race. The nearest airport where I live is only served by AA and if I want to drive to a larger airport for service, DL is usually not going anywhere I want to go… unless I want to connect. Though I have friends that love DL enough that they gladly do. But what I find interesting is the last trip that I have went on, I had to call AA twice. Once to add my lap child to the itinerary and I don’t remember the reason for the second call but my wife was who called. Both times, in the middle of the day, they answered within 15 minutes and were really helpful. I find it really funny that Ed Bastian suggested email. I’m a bigger fan of an in house chat service for customer support. But mainly because I don’t use Twitter. I don’t think anyone should have to sign up for something just to contact customer service.

    Overall it does seem to me at least that some of the luster of DL is starting to wear off. AA and UA are both trying to improve their product and it seems DL, which arguably has the best product out of the big 3, is just coasting. If they keep that up, they may be in a position where they’ll be passed by the competition.

  7. On the topic of Delta, they’re now a solid #3 in AUS according to May 2021 numbers. Now, a lot of that is UA seemingly forgetting to compete in this market, probably combined with DL being happy to fill up ATL-bound A321 after ATL-bound A321, but whatever works, I guess.

    Meanwhile AA is taking the airport by storm heading into the next several months. Working through booking 19 or so round trips for an event mid-October and about half are on AA because they offer a competitively timed and priced nonstop to so many places. Southwest is missing in action this time around; may well book more folks on Spirit (with requisite upgrades)! Out of the 19, United will likely be used for one segment.

  8. I was listening to Delta’s earnings call when Ms. Gilbertson asked the question about wait times. It seems to me that Mr. Bastian’s response has been overblown a wee bit. Here’s why. All the major airlines seem to be having operational issues. The swiftness of the recovery seems to have taken almost everyone by surprise. But it’s interesting to note how critics love to focus “blame” on the airlines they hate, while fans make excuses for the ones they love. Running an airline isn’t as simple as armchair CEOs think it is, and everyone is usually doing the best he or she can. All any business can do is play the hand it’s dealt. To me, the recovery is good news. And I don’t understand the desire for people to play blame games.

    Regarding the 19-seat battery-powered airplane: There’s going to be a need for service to smaller or relatively isolated communities. Aircraft gauge is steadily rising, and that has historically meant service to small towns suffers. You’ll note that Southwest and the ULCCs don’t serve nearly as many airports as the legacies. That could also be part of the reason they tend to be more profitable on a percentage basis. Allegiant’s business model may work in some places, but it doesn’t fill the need for basic, reliable, everyday transportation.

    Another point about the electric aircraft is that it’s a private-sector-driven response. Apparently, some fairly experienced people must think this is commercially viable, or they wouldn’t be wasting valuable time on it.

    What about the design of the aircraft? Without more detail, I’m left to speculate. Battery technology will probably be the main issue. But battery technology has come a long way in the last few years. I’m guessing the aircraft’s batteries will be rechargeable. And I can see two approaches to their design. One is to develop built-in batteries that can be recharged very quickly. My cell phone battery can fully recharge in a few minutes, even when it’s been drained more than 50%. But it’s not powering large electric motors. Another option would be to use plug-in rechargeable batteries such as those used with power tools. A key is to find a way to quickly replace spent batteries with fresh ones at terminals. The aircraft’s design could also allow for additional modular batteries to extend range or performance. Another feature of the aircraft could be to incorporate solar cells into the wings. Obviously, the devil is in the details, but it’ll be interesting to see how things develop.

    1. The US Senate Commerce Committee just held a hearing and expressed their displeasure at the poor quality of service and lack of staffing by US airlines given the tens of billions of dollars that has been pumped into the industry. The airline industry is never popular and it is far from certain whether a few dissatisfied politicians will matter given that this isn’t the first time airlines have squandered the good will of the American people.
      The DOT just released their latest Air Travel Consumer Report which covers on-time and cancellations for May as well as a number of other metrics. Most of the trends are the same as was seen pre-pandemic but there are some interesting movements in rankings that should be watched esp. as summer performance starts being reported next month.
      Everyone that is interested in airline customer service should bookmark the ATCR. There are other surveys of customer service but the ATCR is by far the most comprehensive mechanism to track airline customer service.

      1. Congressional hearings are mostly about putting on a show. There’s rarely substance to any of them. But that’s the nature of politics – shift the blame to someone else.

  9. I had to call Delta to apply a RUC to an itinerary and then make a change to a flight after they initiated a change while holding on to my upgraded seat via RUC. Both required phone calls and each had over an hour hold time at 9 PM. In the middle of the day, it was a 3 hour hold and I’m a Platinum with them.

    1. It’s sad, but my first thought with the Delta hold times is that it’s one thing right now when it’s (still) mostly leisure pax flying. Assuming the issue isn’t fixed soon, if/when/as road warriors (or their assistants) return to flying and find absolutely abysmal customer service and hold times, that’s when Delta will really start to feel the pressure from a business side (on the corporate contracts), especially if the competition offers guarantees to force DL’s hand.

      By way of comparison, look at what happened this spring in the parcel market… After roughly a year of “money-back guarantee” (for on-time deliveries) clauses in corporate contracts being suspended due to COVID, UPS made a big splash about re-instating theirs. UPS knew its operations were still poor, and knew the move would cost it a lot of money, but it ALSO knew that FedEx had much more exposure to those types of claims than UPS did, and that once UPS made the move FedEx would be pressured to follow suit. That’s exactly what happened, and while the move hurt UPS, it hurt FedEx much, MUCH more.

  10. I did it! I emailed Mr. Bastian on Friday night at 10 pm PDT about the check-in situation at LAX T2 in the mornings with only 3 security lanes open and the possibility of checking in at TBIT if our upcoming flight was leaving from TBIT. I received both a phone call and email from Customer Care by 11 am PDT Saturday morning. Unfortunately the majority of my question was not answered, but the fact they got back to me with both within 13 hours and over a weekend is telling.

    1. Don’t know if you got a better answer in the meantime, but you can go though any LAX security checkpoint with a same-day boarding pass. I’m not aware of Delta having a check-in counter at TBIT, but you could check in at T2 at a kiosk or agent, or on your phone, or at home and print your boarding pass, and go though security at TBIT. You should even be able to do this if the flight departs from T2 by taking DL’s airside shuttle bus from TBIT back to T2.

  11. For the first few months of the pandemic, I would suggest coming to the airport for any ticketing/reservation issues to anyone that called our station (assuming they were okay with doing so).

    I was surprised at how that never occurred to many people.

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