Warning! Soon, airline loyalty will cost you

delta7Like many frequent travelers, Glenn Haussman recently received an e-mail from Delta Air Lines about an “update” to its SkyMiles loyalty program. It was so understated that some passengers didn’t bother to read it. But Haussman did.

“I was not thrilled,” says Haussman, who works for a hotel industry Web site in New York. “It made me feel less valuable to Delta.”

How can a loyalty program make passengers feel unappreciated? Delta is the first legacy airline to tie the value of its frequent-flier program to the amount of money you spend, as opposed to the number of miles you fly. Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, the airline’s frequent fliers will earn “elite” status, which gives them access to upgrades and other perks, through a combination of miles or segments flown and annual spending on Delta flights.
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Can airline customer service rise to new heights?

delta5The experience of passengers like Nina Boal makes me optimistic about the future of air travel.

An information technology specialist for a government agency in Baltimore, Boal ran into trouble recently when she flew to her mother’s funeral in Chicago. Her fibromyalgia and severe arthritis made it difficult to board the aircraft.

Delta Air Lines staff bent over backward to make the flight as comfortable as possible, she says. It switched her seats to accommodate her mobility challenges, and its agents helped lift her into the seat. They even apologized for the difficulties, even though “there was nothing for them to apologize about,” she says. “Because of their assistance, I was able to get to my mother’s funeral.
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Delta’s Ausband: “Customer service is very important to the bottom line”

Allison Ausband/Delta

Here’s part two of my interview with Allison Ausband, Delta Air Lines’ vice president for reservations sales and customer care. You can read part one here.

Whatever happened to First Point of Contact? Does it still exist?

Absolutely. We’ve told our people either to fix it, or find someone who can, which is what First Point of Contact was all about. So, if you can’t solve a problem, raise your hand and talk to a leader.

We just started a program with our customer support supervisors in reservations. If they get to an impasse with a customer, they offer to end the call and then call or email the customer back after a short break. It gives the supervisor the chance to review the situation and consider some options that perhaps they hadn’t considered.
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Delta’s Ausband: When it comes to customer service, “we want to be even better”

Allison Ausband/Delta Air Lines

Allison Ausband is Delta Air Lines’ vice president for reservation sales and customer care. I met with her last week to discuss the progress since our last interview in 2010.

It’s nice to see you again. And you’re still here. Before you came along, this position was like watching a game of musical chairs. (Here’s my 2009 interview with Ausband’s predecessor.)

Thank you. I liken it to solving world peace on some days. I try to fix everything. But I’ve never been more excited about our momentum.
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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.
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Which airlines are “faking” it online?

Which airlines are “faking” it online?
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Hey Delta, how about a refund on those outrageous ticket change fees?

A few years ago, we were flying from London to Vienna with our then 13-month old son. Still exhausted from jetlag and maybe a little forgetful, we showed up for the flight 24 hours before our scheduled departure.

But one look at our entourage (the toddler, diaper bags, and the dark rings under the parents’ eyes) must have made the ticket agent feel sorry for us. She booked us on the next flight to Austria without charging any change fees.
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What do you really know about the TSA?

Hey babe, you on the no-fly list? / Photo by Drewski 2112 - Flickr
When it comes to the TSA, you may know less than you think.

I was reminded of that last week when I heard from Sergei Shevchuk, a reader who was flying from Los Angeles to San Francisco on Delta Air Lines.
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Who’s really to blame for these absurd luggage rules?

Just the mention of the words “baggage” and “rule” in the same sentence is enough to raise the blood pressure of the average air traveler.
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