5 fascinating facts about Delta Air Lines

This is the new international terminal at Atlanta’s airport. It’s an architectural masterpiece that echoes Eero Saarinen’s iconic Trans World Flight Center in New York and reminds me of the golden age of flying. It was my final stop on a recent one-day visit to Delta.

Here are a few other things that fascinated me.

The social media lab on Delta’s campus. Every day, 3,100 tweets sent to @DeltaAssist are fielded through this office. It’s staffed around the clock by a team of 16 employees, who are recruited from Delta’s call centers and given a three-day crash course on social media. Jerry Fletcher, Delta’s manager of reservation systems and social media, says the department has evolved into a team that can “do anything” for a customer.

The airline pays close attention to who is saying anything about it in the blogosphere and social mediasphere. Look closely at this screen on the lab’s command center wall, and you can see where the action is happening. Twitter mentions at the top, followed by forum replies, blogs, and Facebook. I visited the lab on a Monday morning. Execs tell me that these numbers shift based on the time of day and day of the week. Oh, and in case you were wondering, they reply to virtually every shout-out — even the ones sent using the default “egg” avatar on Twitter. Once they know who you are, they also match your SkyMiles account to your avatar. Pretty clever.

The nose of the very first Lockheed L-1011, which is now a gift shop for the Delta Air Transport Heritage Museum. After you’ve stocked up on memorabilia, you can visit the flight deck and get your picture taken. No, I did not have my picture taken in the cockpit. I’m not an aviation geek. OK, maybe just a little. This is a good time to visit the museum, by the way. Tiffany Meng, the museum’s director, told me the two hangars are getting a big makeover starting this spring, and the facility won’t reopen until the following year.

Here’s the view from my seat on my flight back to Orlando. I had a lengthy interview with Allison Ausband, Delta’s vice president for reservations sales and customer care, and she told me about some of the contingency plans for “IROPs” — airlinespeak for irregular operatons. A wave of thunderstorms smacked into Atlanta just before I returned to Orlando, so I had a firsthand opportunity to see why Delta’s DOT complaints have fallen off a cliff in the last few months.

Bottom line: it’s happening for a lot of little reasons, including empowering employees to fix a problem (no more “no waivers, no favors”) new reseating programs that ensure you’ll get a comparable seat assignment when there’s an equipment change, and little personal touches, like getting pilots to make delay announcements. “I have a feeling we’re getting better,” Ausband told me. “But we’ll never be satisfied.” (My full interview with her will appear shortly.)

My flight was delayed by about 20 minutes, but considering that the two previous flights to Orlando were canceled, forcing Delta to switch to a larger aircraft, and they were dealing with weather and heavy air traffic, I think they did remarkably well. Beyond that, the gate agent’s explanation and apologies came off sounding sincere, which is a welcome break from other legacy airlines whose employees sound anything but nice when they make those announcements. And you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Nice work, Delta. Fascinating stuff.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/lisa.cook1 Lisa Cook

    Trying to redeem miles for their Awards Travel is the worst ! I’ve never been able to get a round trip for 25000 :(

  • crash025

    Better about irrops and dropped complains? I couldn’t get a response until i tweeted deltaassist a second time in the last Sunday.
    What happened with me:
    – Had a 1930 delta flight from CLT-LGA which got a small minor delay http://flightaware.com/live/flight/GJS6186/history/20121210/0036Z/KCLT/KLGA
    – They got delayed in the air [take a look at the flight path]
    – More than 10 minutes before my connecting flight LGA-ROC they closed the door. [Its the last flight of the night to ROC]
    – No gate agents there when I got there… it was 10 minutes before scheduled departure after the gate agents for a Burlington, VT flight started calling about if the door had been closed and if they could stop the person [these guys were great]. They instantly gave me a new BP for the 8.40 the next day.
    – I asked about a hotel voucher, they GAs were looking up the rules, but a third guy came in and bluntly told me that I wouldn’t get a hotel voucher because it was all weather related, despite the late incoming.
    – The checked bag stayed at LGA [which was fine, meant i didn’t have to recheck the next morning]
    – Security was long at LGA [not delta’s fault but it took nearly an hour to get through, and they were calling my name by the time i got from C term to D where the plane was]
    – Maintenance delay while we were on the plane, Which they screw around for about 20-30min, then we’re told to deplay. Delay till 10.30. Then another delay to 12, and canceled at 11.30. I was already confirmed for the 3.15 just incase. [The 11am was already booked]
    – Tried to go to the in airport CS people to get my return fixed from thurs night [ROC-DTW-LEX] to Friday ROC-ATL-LEX. Was told that they couldn’t do that and would have to call. I was also told that the comp for the canceled flight was “$50 Delta Credit”
    – 1515 flight was delayed to 1600 because of lack of FAs. Finally arrive in ROC Monday at 1800.
    – Called the Delta Line to get my return fixed due to a schedule change, that worked fine
    – Went to check in for my flight tomorrow checkin claims that the reservation “wasn’t ticketed” Had to call Delta again today.

    What I’ve been doing to try to avoid this:
    Sunday I watched the CLT-LGA for delays like a hawk. I was ready to call and get a rebooking for the next morning or the CLT-ATL/DTW-ROC booking.Arrived at the airport so that I could make the CLT-ATL/DTW flights if necessary. Checking in 23 hours in advanced.Being one of the first ones off of the plane, and running to make the connection.

    As a result of complaining I was “offered” a $75 gift certificate to some stores that I couldn’t careless about on top of the “$50 DC” . With the LGA-ROC I met the status match for silver, but right now I’m a little confused as what to do with the Silver status, as that I won’t be flying with them again.

    I’m Gold on United [the hard way being from CLT], and now silver on Delta. I won’t be flying with them again.

  • TravelBloggerBuzz

    The Delta Assist folks are the real deal! If only in this airline operated as sharply as them! What is fascinating also is how hard Skymiles are to burn and the pitiful award search engine. It’s not like they don’t know about it!

  • crash025

    I can’t get anything to Europe for less than 115k.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Wow. I hope the powers that be at Delta see this. I know they would hate to lose a customer.

  • flutiefan

    quick question: why would you be in the LGA C terminal (a completely separate building used by US Airways) for a Delta flight in D terminal?

  • crash025

    They couldn’t give a toss. I sent the DOT a letter about it, and them via their complaint line. Thats why they “offered” me the gift card. I’m not going to accept the gift card. The gate agents for the missed LGA-ROC flight were pretty young, and I believe in experienced. They just reiterate that holding the plane is subject to the GAs discretion.

    In my letter I included all of the flight numbers, confirmation number, and what I mentioned here.

  • flutiefan

    not sure where you heard that about DL, but at my airline, holding is NOT subject to the GAs discretion. i realize people think it is, but there are huge repercussions (including termination) if gate agents decide that on their own. like i said, that’s how it is at my airline.

  • crash025

    Landed in D26/D27ish Gate for LGA-ROC (DL7233) that night was C25.

    EDIT: Didn’t know the history but the shuttle bus is a relatively new thing between D&C without hitting security.

  • Wendy Amundson

    I was trying to upgrade w/miles and Delta has no search function for that & no way to do it online. They do have a chart of how many miles you need to upgrade online, but the Delta person on the phone was telling me it was more than 3X that amount to upgrade. When I explained that the online chart said something different she said she was switching me to online support, who told me there was nothing they could do for me until I booked a ticket and then they could upgrade it. So I did that & the new person said online support couldn’t do anything about that and switched me to a regular ticket agent and I think there was someone in between too. The last agent agreed with what the chart said online and was able to book me — though at a higher cost than the ticket I bought. She explained how the upgrades worked, which was what I had tried to tell the first agent. I told this last agent that I appreciated the explanation but was there any way they could provide that explanation to the first agent. She said there was no way they could track who that was even though I had given my name & Skymiles # to each agent I talked to. I even asked the last agent if there was ANYTHING she could do to make me feel good about my experience and she said no, everything was computerized so there was nothing she could do. So five different people and probably an hour and a half of my time, plus the time I spent online myself to FINALLY get an upgrade. I have seen no evidence of this improved service you speak of. I also tagged Delta on Facebook about this experience and got no response from anyone.

  • crash025

    From the email: (Case #7725771)

    “Moreover, I can only imagine your frustration when your connecting flight in New York-LaGuardia was not held. Please know that any decision
    to hold a flight for connecting passengers is made on a case-by-case
    basis. Respectfully, our team members at the gate are responsible for
    an on-time departure. Nevertheless, I understand your dissatisfaction.”

    I’ve had US Airways hold a connecting flight for me AND got my checked bags on the plane due to a delay [EDIT] going to DCA. Also, had Southwest hold it for others at MDW due to a nasty rain storm in August.

  • http://www.facebook.com/moshe.leib Moshe Leib

    Donate your miles to Marcy Medical Airlift, help patients with cancer, thank you!

  • crash025

    Thats not a bad idea.

  • flutiefan

    to be clear, “our team members at the gate are responsible for
    an on-time departure” means that the agent’s job is to get that flight out of the gate on time (which is usually up to 5 minutes prior to scheduled departure) and they are held to that responsibility. they can and will get disciplined if they “go rogue” and decide on their own to delay the flight.
    the fact that you’ve had flights held before has no bearing, since you cannot ascertain that those gate agents are the ones who made the call to hold your plane. likely, that decision came from the airline’s Dispatch, NOT the gate agent.
    trust me.

  • flutiefan

    like i said, strange to have a DL flight land in the US concourse…

  • crash025

    Concorse C is shaped like a U. The hallway that has US Air also has Delta gates. C26/27 is right where security is, US Airways also has a gate near the baggage claim exit downstairs. They own the hallway of C thats near term D.

  • bodega3

    Interesting. Last year when my flight was late in departing PHL to LAX and I was connecting to SFO on the last UA flight of the day, that most likely the gate agent would hold the plane, as that what she use to do when she was a gate agent. There were 14 of us connecting and she said the gate agent wouldn’t want to deal with that many unhappy people who couldn’t get out that night.

  • crash025

    Irregardless, “on time departures” for flights that terminate, and have no connecting passengers is a bit of a joke.

  • crash025

    That’s what I expect from a good gate agent, it shows experience.

    I suspect my DCA flight was held [as that I was running to the gate with being either at or less than the 10 minute policy] because I was going to the US Air hub at CLT.

  • flutiefan

    that gate agent may beg dispatch to let her hold it, but believe me she does not get the final say, unless she wants to be pulled into a disciplinary hearing the next day, and possibly fired.

  • flutiefan

    i’ve had to do it. those were my orders, i didn’t get to make the choice, no matter how wrong i thought it was (and how wrong that someone in another place who doesn’t ever have to see these passengers face-to-face got to make that decision).

  • http://www.deltapoints.com/ DeltaPoints.com

    With some work you can get 100k Biz seats to Europe all year long:


  • crash025

    Thats awesome, had no idea, my survey wasn’t very comprehensive.

  • Barry Moss

    I would be a lot more interested in flying Delta if they didn’t consistently have the worst record of any of the large airlines for FF seat availability at regular, not over inflated, redemption rates.

  • atlmom10

    It is VERY difficult but they have made the website so easy! Rather than getting the few seats that are ‘held’ for FF miles – they basically always allow you to book with miles for any flight – using miles or money – they increase the num of miles just like they increase the prices as you get closer. You maybe can get that 25k RT – if you book the first day a flight is available (something like 300 days in advance) and it’s a short hop. But otherwise, well, it’s going to take more. BUT at least you can pretty much do it on any flight!

  • atlmom10

    delta used to hold planes for connecting passengers, but then their on time numbers were AWFUL. SO they stopped that procedure. it’s really a tough call…

  • DotWonder

    i’ve had terrible experiences w/ Delta Assit. Basically “thanks for letting us know, but we can’t help you”

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    You know, I’ve tweeted them out twice in the last week and haven’t even heard back. Maybe they’ve just gotten busy? Maybe they have my profile tagged as a troublemaker? ;-)

  • TonyA_says

    Wow sorry to hear what happened. Just wondering how bad the weather was in LGA. I recall it was raining quite hard all day Sunday and it was very foggy on Monday.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Hmmm. So Delta trains it’s employees for three days on how to use social media, but the TSA trains it’s employees for one day on how to screen passengers. I feel so much safer now.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I just got a DM from them on Twitter. Turns out I should have phrased my comments as a question … sorry!

  • ExplorationTravMag

    Delta has long been my airline of choice. Initially, it was because my brother worked for them but he left years ago and my loyalty remains. I’ve had some bumps along the way, but not enough to switch.

    I’ve Tweeted them while sitting on a plane, in the midst of a problem, and had them respond via an FA who came to my seat to resolve it.

    Delta is working hard to change their image and doing it in a good way. They have become more responsive to the needs of their customers. Now if they would just give a little more leg room to those of us who can’t always afford to fly EC.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    I’ve gotten two tickets from them for 25,000 miles in my time as a member of the FF program. I’ve found flexibility is part of it, with the other part being not going to a city everyone wants to go to at the time of year I’m looking. I was able to get to Orlando on a free miles tickets in late January, once.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    And I LOVE that Delta is reading these comments and offering help. I just don’t know you can get that anywhere else with any other airline. Again, this is why they have my loyalty. Always has, always will.

  • http://travelingwinechick.com/ Elizabeth Smith

    You can’t upgrade with miles online and it has to be after purchase, as it’s based on eligible fare classes and routing, with some fare classes being higher priority than others. So what you do is call first and say, “Is there mileage upgrade availability for this route and this fare class on this date?” If so, then you book your ticket and call back to request the mileage upgrade.

  • http://travelingwinechick.com/ Elizabeth Smith

    It all depends on a number of factors: dates, routes, elite status ranking, etc. I’ve booked two 32,500k tickets and one 25,000k tickets this year.

  • http://travelingwinechick.com/ Elizabeth Smith

    It all depends on a number of factors: dates, routes, elite status
    ranking, etc. I’ve booked two 32,500k tickets and one 25,000k tickets
    this year. I have found the more flexible you are, the better redemption rates.

  • http://travelingwinechick.com/ Elizabeth Smith

    Some of these delays could have been weather-related or Air Traffic Control related, not just at your outbound and inbound airports, but the airports from which the crew and/or aircraft were coming. The lack of FAs could have been required crew rest due to a late incoming flight due to a weather or ATC delay. Did you ask which kind of delay it was? I see you had one maintenance delay and cancellation? I am surprised they did not offer you a Delta voucher, though. I’ve never been given a gift certificate to a store for IRROPS.

  • http://travelingwinechick.com/ Elizabeth Smith

    C and D are both Delta terminals now. US Airways has scaled down service in and out of LGA as part of the DCA/LGA slot swap between Delta and US Airways, so they only have a few gates at LGA now.

  • http://travelingwinechick.com/ Elizabeth Smith

    I worked as a Delta gate agent for a shift in Atlanta as part of a customer-Delta get-together weekend a couple of years ago (what a learning experience!) and the gate agents do NOT decide when a flight departs, dispatch/Delta Operations does. In fact, gate agents are docked when flights do not depart on time.

  • http://travelingwinechick.com/ Elizabeth Smith

    Actually the holding the plane decision is made by flight operations, not gate agents.

  • $16635417

    It depends on how much rest the crew legally and contractually needs at the out station. A late departure at night could mean a late departure the next AM resulting in missed connections in the morning.


    When my 13 yr old son was being treated for cancer, we were able to get free flights twice on Continental from Tucson to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston thanks to people who donated miles. Please consider this as it will help more then you can imagine.

  • Dobber

    I’d do just about anything to avoid a Delta connection in Atlanta. I hate that place. And some of their Atlanta personnel are more than unhelpful.

  • john4868

    I was also on a RJ flight whose FO was about ready to time out. I don’t think I’ve ever taxied as quickly as we did to get off the ground before he timed out.

  • john4868

    I live just outside Cincinnati. DL basically lost my business when they lied to congress about their post-merger hubs. If I have to connect (which is almost always with the grossly reduced flight schedule), I fly another airline.

  • crash025

    Update: My flight going back DL 2146 is delayed from 11.53 to 12:05, this is going to make my connecting flight 5222 interesting.

  • Lindabator

    flexibility and booking FAR in advance helps – i have clients who do so every year for their December travel, and sine they do it so far in advance, have no problems whatsoever. I’ve also used them for travel multiple times, including for Europe.

  • Extramail

    Agreed! My husband is 1+ million miler platinum, I only try to go to offbeat places on flights that my husband is also flying on and I usually know at least six months in advance, leaving on a saturday with a wednesday/thursday return and I haven’t found a 25000 mile “free” ticket in at least eight years. But, the award calendar always says I’ve chosen flights and dates that qualify for the 25000 award. I’ve quit even bothering with the calendar because it just pisses me off even more.

  • Eric

    LGA is all fakakted now with the Delta/USAir swap and United now using Continental’s gates in Concourse A in addition to their gates in Concourse C.

  • http://www.abackpackerstale.com/ Stephen Schreck

    Wow I never thought an airline would follow social media so closely. That is amazing that they reply to every shout out. I used to fly delta all the time, but I have recently have switched because I have found cheaper airlines.

  • Eric Keyte

    I agree. I’ve had a few issues with Delta lately, despite the fact that they’re my airline of choice. In such a competitive marketplace where most travelers typically book airfares based on the lowest price, it amazes me that Delta isn’t “fighting” for the business. I booked my flight back to Maine this year for Christmas on jetBlue for about 1/6 the cost of Delta’s least expensive route.

  • Eric Keyte

    About two years ago when I first started aggressively accumulating miles with Delta, they pridefully advertised that many routes only cost 12.5k miles-15k miles. The “cheapest” route I can get with miles is ~40k.

  • Frank

    My wife needs wheelchair assistance in airport terminals and we had the best experience of our lives with Delta a week ago, flying FLL-LGA-PWM. At every terminal we received instant personalized help from friendly, skilled employees. Head and shoulders over what we got from United last year!

  • disqus_A6K3VBf8Zn

    I swear by,not at Delta. Sadly, my favorite routing is not served by Delta and I dislike US Air.

  • crash025

    I tried to, however they require you to fill out a form for them to do it and delta doesn’t list them where I can do it. I can’t give out my password for the account. [Required for the form where they take it out of your account] After that experience, I do intend to drain my account. [I’ll still have the status, but no miles] Also, if its not MMA, I wish to donate it to a charity that will use the miles at face value (where the beneficiaries will be able to use it to get a flight, rather than the silly conversion value)

    EDIT: See http://www.elliott.org/blog/5-fascinating-facts-about-delta-air-lines/#comment-743095044

  • crash025

    I donated all 8,798 that I had. [I had silver via status match] Also they’re listed under the American Cancer Society.


    On behalf of all mom’s whose kids have had or are currently dealing with cancer, I thank you!!

  • Richard Wooldridge

    They “have no problems whatsoever”. Perhaps you have been lucky on 1 or 2 attempts; however, ANYONE trying to book Skymiles flights will have trouble getting low mileage flights. I’m sorry, I just won’t accept your statement.

  • bambi vincent

    But why is baggage theft from the carousel at Delta’s main hub, Atlanta, allowed to continue? Documented: thieves walk right in expressly to steal bags off the carousel: http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/2012/09/atlanta-airport-luggage-theft-at-baggage-claim/