delta a350

Though it was a year ago this weekend, I remember the flight like it was yesterday. I was making my way back from Los Angeles to London with a transcontinental flight in Delta One, feeding to an international flight from Boston to London. The crew couldn’t have been lovelier, but the reason that flight was memorable had nothing to do with me.

But before we get into that anecdote, let’s look at a few things Delta has done in the last year..

Now, back to the story. After exchanging pleasantries, the purser was proud to let me know she’d been flying with the airline for over 20 years, and never had she been more in love with her job than the present. A younger colleague of hers, relatively new, was learning on the job, in an absolute masterclass.

There was a two letter reason why: Ed.

As someone used to airplane galleys being places filled with disdain for passengers, management, and underpay, I couldn’t believe how upbeat and proud this crew was of their airline. I’d never heard of an airline CEO that was actually loved by their employees, but I practically had to ask for the convo to be cut short, with all the Ed Bastian love.

There was a simple reason for that: Delta was making record profits to the tune of billions, and Ed Bastian chose to create a revenue share agreement with employees. When times were booming, everyone got to get in on the action, not just Wall Street and c-suite. Yeah, to the surprise of no one, telling employees they’re valuable just isn’t quite as effective as giving them cold hard cash when they create a great product.

Before I boarded my next flight, I enjoyed using my Skymiles to “upgrade” to a glass of outstanding California Cabernet, rather than the “free” house stuff. For someone with a few miles to burn, and an affinity for truly great wine – a glass of Silver Oak hit the spot. And for about 2,000 Skymiles, I was happy to imbibe.

delta one suitesOn the next flight, I found that nothing had changed. This crew was upbeat, positive, proud of the soft touches like great new wine lists and exciting new seats rolling out to the best new planes in the sky. It was entirely evident that there was a culture of positivity at this airline, and it didn’t seem to be fading anytime soon.

Delta was going big in business class with fully enclosed suites, while offering passenger friendly touches in economy. At the same time, they launched a competitive premium economy. The Big 3 have always been interested in cornering corporate travel coin, but Delta just seems to be doing more to deliver a palatable travel experience for all.

After a year of bouncing around the “Big 3” US Airlines, Delta is the one that gives me hope and optimism that the “big race to the bottom” in the US airline industry might be improperly titled. There just might be an airline using their record revenue streams to create things passengers want. For that matter, Delta was the only of the “big three” to still allow full sized carry on bags on basic economy tickets.

What makes this all so impressive is countering it with a typical experience on America, or United. My last business class experience on American couldn’t have been more disappointing. Culturally, they’re miles behind. Though there are always wonderful people in any operation, you can’t fake buzz, and neither airline is enjoying as much brand enthusiasm.

In examining this cultural shift, one can’t help but think that their joint venture partner across the pond may be playing a big part here. Despite being a boutique, underdog of an airline, Virgin Atlantic has always been one of the most beloved brands in the sky, known for the “surprise and delight” factor. Bellini’s and printed menus certainly sound like a Virgin touch.

Hey, if it makes flying better, who cares.

Airlines will never be the friendly neighbours we collectively wish for them to be. In most cases, they’re publicly traded companies, dutifully bound to maximise every revenue opportunity and fill every inch of every aircraft as efficiently as possible. But seeing the way Delta is moving, I can’t help but be optimistic that in the “monkey see, monkey do” culture of airline copycatting, Delta may be carving their own lane.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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7 Comments

  1. GO, while this sounds like a bit of a commercial, I happen to agree. I go out of my way to fly Delta. I’m unsure if you have any status with them, but if you don’t I highly recommend obtaining it somehow. Even as a lowly Platinum they treat me very well. Always acknowledge status when I am on board, willing to tweak rules in a “situation”, fly clean(ish) and often nicely refurbished aircraft. Oh and most importantly, they are punctual.
    Add in that they do, if fact, genuinely seem to enjoy their jobs and it’s easy to see why they are successful.
    The only elephant in the room is SkyMiles. Minus a flash sale their D1 requirement is generally bonkers.
    Thank goodness for their Virgin partnership/codeshare. At least for now….

    1. Geoff, yah. When I like something I tend to sound cheesy. I have dabbled in Platinum in recent years and have Virgin Gold, which is well received as well. I’m impressed with where the operation is, and if they could just add a bit of transparency to Skymiles, they’d be more compelling.

  2. They also still nickel and dime. Their BS in not offering real champagne before leaving the ground, as they don’t want to pay the taxes, is ridiculous.

  3. Let’s not forget that Delta was the first of the US3 to hide their award chart and to switch to dynamic pricing. When it comes to the race to the bottom, Delta is leading the pack.

  4. Please do not base your interpretations upon one crew. As a majority, we DO NOT CARE for Ed Bastian. He’s selfish and most certainly doesn’t care about employees well being. We have awful health insurance, a terrible sick policy, and our pay consistently falls below the other leading airlines. We have uniforms that are making employees ill, and the company shows no concern. We are threatened when we have to call out of work for any basic illness or family issue. Ed, and delta, are great at fudging numbers and pretending like they treat us better than they do. This article is damaging to all delta flight attendants. You have published false information that will spread around the internet, softening the actual mistreatments and regards to delta from flight crew. I encourage you to do more research before writing something of the sort again. Given that we are fighting to unionize and be treated better as a work force, false information like so, is very damaging. Given that you have spoken to 2 out of the 24,000+ flight attendants employed at DL, I can assure that you really fumbled in gathering the true facts.

    1. Please find me one false claim in this article. If you do, and it’s actually “false” rather than your opinion – I’ll remove it with apologies.

      You are mistaken that I spoke with 2 members of staff. I speak with Delta staff constantly, and this is the feedback and general rapport I can report back on. This is just an anecdote to illustrate the point.

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