Delta traces its origins back to 1924 when one of its forbears started as an agricultural top dresser. It flew its first passenger in 1929. Over the decades the airline has been involved in a substantial number of takeovers, subsidiaries and mergers. Its latest with Northwest; its merger completed in 2010 to form what they claim is the world’s largest airline. The airline operates a vast fleet of 700 aircraft characterised by many aged jets including McDonnell Douglas MD-80’s. With Delta’s resumption of services to Sydney in 2007 it spans all continents. Delta was deeply affected by the drop in passengers on all US airlines following 9/11 and filed for bankruptcy protection in 2005. US Airways attempted, but failed, to take over Delta during their plight but the airline emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2007 complete with a new logo and colour scheme. In 2010 Delta courted troubled JAL, but the Japanese airline played hard to get and negotiations flopped. With earthquake and atomic troubles in Japan, Delta must be rejoicing their takeover failed.
Like practically all of America’s airlines Delta has been a financial lemon and management have looked for cuts everywhere. As a result its poorly paid staff deliver indifferent to poor service, aircraft interiors are dull, uninspiring and tired, and catering, entertainment and creature comforts are basic. Passengers are more likely to recall their Delta flight for its disappointing on-board service than for anything good.
For Americans Delta has an almost perfect network. Together with its subsidiaries the airline covers almost every domestic destination in the country and its route map throughout Latin America and the Caribbean is a blurred string of lines covering almost every place Americans want to travel to. Further afield Delta offers a wide choice of major cities especially in Europe, Africa and eastern Asia. They also fly to Australia and India. The airline has numerous hubs, the largest being Atlanta.
Delta is a mid price airline. On domestic routes it is seldom cheaper than the no-frills carriers however it claims to be a full service airline. What this means when the airline provides no free meal, misplaces baggage and staff don’t smile is hard to identify. On international routes Delta are competitive but where they compete with quality carriers they present average or poor value. If you have a choice between Delta or Korean Air, or Delta and Virgin Atlantic flying with Delta would be disappointing second choice. On pure price they may be cheaper, but it is unlikely your flight will be memorable for any good reasons.
In all classes Delta’s catering looks like it’s come off a conveyer belt (which it probably has). Passengers do not book Delta flights for the gourmet dining. In economy the offering is ordinary and basic and in the BusinessElite and Domestic First class it is simply a better standard of ordinary. On most domestic flights passengers will need to open their wallets if they wish to eat as complimentary catering is only provided on flights over five hours. Cutlery and plates are basic and the airline’s presentation skills show signs of cutbacks. Delta’s meals are characterised by junk food snacks, fattening mains and sugary deserts. Dieters or diabetics watch out.
Delta’s entertainment system is very inconsistent. There are a variety of options which range from nothing except the inflight magazine to Delta on Demand, a quite modern system of seat-back video screens found on flights that are 12+ hours in duration. Other aircraft are likely to have smaller drop down TV screens with volume through headphones. The airlines non-English offerings are meagre and Delta Sky magazine looks like an attempt to extract revenue from advertisers rather than a medium to entertain passengers.
Delta’s ground staff look exhausted and overworked, but if you catch them in a good mood or need to chat with them, you’ll discover they are very experienced and have a personality. The airline seems under staffed and service is poor. Concern for baggage is lacking. Overall the airline is suffering the inevitable effects of cost cutting. Delta believe in hubbing, but this increases the chance of bags missing connecting flights and staff really don’t care. Why should they? It happens thousands of times a day and the airline has no real way of doing anything about it.
The airline’s premium product is not very premium. Even their elite passengers have felt the effects of cutbacks with tired interiors, plastic cups in Domestic First class and flight crews who were once glamorous in the 60’s and 70’s and are still flying. On international routes it is difficult to understand why elite passengers would choose Delta when more sophisticated airlines offer a superior service. Delta’s lounges are generally crowded cafes that provide free drinks. Their Sky Lounges are pretty ordinary but long waits between flights make them value for money.
As a means of getting from one place to another Delta’s economy product is OK. As part of a romantic honeymoon or a once in a lifetime trip, Delta’s economy product promises to disappoint. Considering the airlines network is vast and its prices are reasonably priced their economy class is satisfactory. The airline now has Economy Comfort Class which is half way between economy and business classes. Physically large passengers and basketball players should really book this class, especially on longer flights. The seats are larger, entertainment is better but the catering and the lack of service is the same as Economy.
The airlines SkyMiles loyalty scheme has won awards and they didn’t necessarily win them by bribing judges with free flights. Delta’s scheme is very comprehensive and covers flights, hotels, credit cards, retail outlets and an ever expanding range of products and services. While Americans are quite enthusiastic about the scheme the reality cannot be avoided that individual miles are practically valueless and you need to do a lot of shopping or flying before you can redeem a flight. But compared to other schemes it’s very good and Miles can be earned on partner airlines the world over.
The stresses of flying through bankruptcy with unsustainable competition have led the airline to look for cuts, cuts and more cuts to survive. Typically management have looked at staff wages and conditions for cuts first which has created a ‘them and us’ mentality which is unhealthy for a service industry. Staff do take their disappointment with management out on passengers and baggage. Management typically have an inflated view of themselves their dismal performance does not justify, and lying comes uncomfortably naturally to many of their executives.
All areas of the airline have experienced cuts and engineering has been no exception. Quite frankly the airline cannot afford to replace their giant fleet as often as they’d like and they run planes and pilots longer than they should without better care. Over its long life Delta has had a large number of accidents, a surprisingly high number of fatal ones caused by weather factors. However you’re infinitely more likely to have an incident in the taxi to the airport than you are on your flight.
Delta is a tired giant airline that provides an impersonal satisfactory service.
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