Posted by: Mark Ashley

delta 747 front Delta promises upgrades to its 747s
Delta, which inherited a slew of Boeing 747s through its merger with Northwest, has announced that it is upgrading the interiors of its planes. This overdue change affects 16 planes that primarily travel via the Tokyo hub. Alas, the upgrades won’t start until Summer 2011, finishing up a year later. But it’s always nice to see an American airline join the new millennium!

The announced benefits:

  • On-demand inflight entertainment in coach
    About time. 9″ touchscreens will be installed for the coach seats. Economy passengers will have access to “250 movie titles, hundreds of television shows, 4,000 digital music tracks, personalized music playlists, more than a dozen interactive games and a USB port to charge iPods and other personal electronic devices.”
  • More room (1.5″ legroom) in economy
    The new seats in economy benefit from slimline seats — they’re also lighter, saving fuel, and offer increased under-seat storage.
  • Upgraded flat beds in business class
    Each seat has aisle access. The window seats point toward the window, and the center seats point toward each other. More details: “The new seat, manufactured by Weber Aircraft LLC, will be 81.7 inches in length and 20.5 inches wide, similar to the flat-bed product currently offered on Delta’s 777-200LR fleet. It also will feature a 120-volt universal power outlet, USB port, personal LED reading lamp and Panasonic’s 15.4 inch personal video monitors with instant access to 250 new and classic movies, premium programming from HBO and Showtime, video games and more than 4,000 digital music tracks.”

This sounds like a solid improvement to the hard product in every class. It’s not a game changer — other airlines have been rolling out changes like this for years — but it’s nice to see an American airline trying to make the customer experience a little more enjoyable. A shame that we’ll have to wait a year before the rollout actually starts.

delta facebook small Delta starts selling tickets on Facebook: Is this what customers want?
Delta has launched the “Ticket Window,” an interface for selling airline tickets via Facebook. It’s an interesting but possibly controversial move.

As mentioned explicitly in the press release, the company is trying to position itself where the internet traffic is, rather than steering web traffic to their own site. It’s a smart move insofar as it piggybacks a widely adopted technology.

But by setting up shop within Facebook, Delta runs some real risks, too. Facebook has not endeared itself to privacy advocates through its constantly devolving notion of what is considered private, vs. what is shared with the world. And the airline takes on the risk — both real and perceived — of being a piece of the Facebook puzzle.

Delta tries to skirt this issue with a notification that “information collected [on the Delta Facebook page] goes to Delta and not to Facebook.”

Two issues there, though: First, the airline needs to reassure customers that buying a ticket via Facebook doesn’t open up the entire wealth of personal data which people share about themselves on the social networking site. Are you giving Delta a lot more info about your personal buying habits by accessing their site via Facebook, rather than browsing over to own site?

Second, it’s Delta’s responsibility to reassure customers that the information they enter really remains in Delta’s hands and not Facebook’s, over time. Facebook has retroactively changed the rules for what is public and what is private. What’s to step them from changing the rules again?

In talking to some Delta frequent fliers, I found some hesitance to use the site. They expressed worries that others might learn about their travels if they used the Delta Facebook page, who is going to find out about it? Will data related to the transaction be available to competing travel companies, if they pay Facebook enough? What about industrial espionage: You may be booking a flight to woo a prospective client, and if you booked it via Facebook, might your competitors get wind of it too?

As David P., an independent contractor working for both federal government and corporate clients, asked, “Delta may promise you privacy now, but what happens when Facebook changes their terms again? It’s too risky. I can type in ‘delta.com’ pretty easily. Why is the whole Facebook thing really necessary?”

So, is buying tickets via Facebook something you, as a traveler, want? Is it something you’d use, or have used? Is privacy a concern? Or something else? Hit the comments.

Categorized in: Delta Air Lines

Checked baggage fees are perhaps the most hated of the current round of fee hikes, but Delta has figured out a way to make the fees more palatable… for some. The airline’s marketing team has linked Delta Amex card membership with checked baggage fee waivers:

Starting June 1st, Cardmembers with a Gold, Platinum, or Reserve Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express—and up to eight travel companions within their reservation—will automatically receive a first checked bag fee waiver upon check-in for all Delta and Delta Connection® flights.

This only applies to general members of the SkyMiles program, of course, since elite-level members are already waived out of paying the baggage fees — for two bags.

Assuming a single checked bag, checked both ways on a roundtrip, Delta Amex holders would save $50 per person on the itinerary. (Up to eight travel companions?! Big crowd. But that could work out to quite a savings.)

The cards charge annual fees — the gold, platinum, and reserve cards charge an $95, $150, or $450 (!) annual fee, respectively — but if you’re not an elite member of SkyMiles and you’re going to be traveling with Delta (and checking bags) anyway, it may be worth signing up for a card.

The competition for customers traveling between New York and Chicago — already a crowded field — is about to get more crowded. Delta is launching a new shuttle service between LaGuardia and O’Hare, to complement their flights to Boston and Washington.

For those who have never had the pleasure, a “shuttle” operation typically means high-frequency, some perks aimed at business travelers, and open seating — no reserving that aisle or window.

The press release adds some detail:

Delta’s new hourly shuttle service between New York-La Guardia and Chicago O’Hare will begin June 10 and replace existing flights between LaGuardia and Chicago Midway. The flights, which are a strategic part of Delta’s commitment to expand in New York, will operate between Delta’s convenient Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia and O’Hare’s Terminal 2.

In advance of the launch, Delta will install new dedicated Shuttle check-in and self-service kiosks at O’Hare, which will become a new Delta Shuttle station. The kiosks feature the ability to purchase tickets for travel that day to LaGuardia, replicating the speed and convenience that customers enjoy in other Delta Shuttle markets. The airline also will assign the Chicago-New York flights to dedicated gates located nearest to O’Hare’s Terminal 2 security checkpoint and offer complimentary morning coffee, tea and newspapers to customers departing from these gates.

Flights on this route will be operated with Embraer 175 jets equipped with 12 seats in First Class and 64 seats in Economy Class. Both cabins are configured with no middle seats. Delta’s enhanced onboard Shuttle product will be offered in both classes, including meals in First Class, and, in economy, bagels on departures before 10 a.m. and complimentary wine and Sam Adams beer.

There are a few things notable here:

For starters, more frequency in a crowded field. The announcement means eleven Delta shuttle flights a day in each direction. But talk about a crowded field: American has 17 flights between O’Hare and LaGuardia alone, plus 8 flights to Newark and a single, solitary flight to JFK. United has 15 to LGA and 8 to Newark. JetBlue has three flights to JFK. Continental has 7 flights to Newark. And Delta has two flights to JFK in addition to their new shuttle service. (The online schedule still shows 9 flights between Midway and LaGuardia, but those are due to be cut.)

At first, I thought that the increased frequency between two of the busiest airports in America would mean greater delays. But Delta recently picked up a number of slots at LGA in a convoluted 6-way transaction with other airlines, so there should be no congestive effect of the increased frequency.

The shuttle service also will include some amenities for the folks in coach, including a snack and a included alcoholic beverage (ironically, on the heels of Continental’s elimination of free meals in coach).

Some might object to the use of Embraer 175 regional jets, in lieu of larger Boeing or Airbus aircraft. The aircraft have been flown by subcontractors under the Delta Connection label in the past. Personally, I find those Embraers comfortable, especially for a short flight like the 733 miles between New York and Chicago.

So I like this. It improves the product on a busy route while increasing competition. I’ll be interested to see how they choose to price these flights — at a premium to other airlines? — and how they fare with business travelers.

Categorized in: Delta Air Lines

washing wine down drain Upgrades and Downgrades: BA wine disposal, shady baggage fees, one way myths, TSA jokes
Downgraded: Teamwork, Wine, and Cost-Savings on British Airways
Management vs. labor (or labour, if you will) on British Airways is getting nastier. Take this quote, for example: “No-one is doing anything to help save costs any more. Whereas we used to keep unfinished bottles of wine in first-class to save money, now they’re routinely poured down the sink.” Pouring good wine down the sink? That’s a sin!

Downgraded: Traveling Value, Thanks to Fees
Delta upped its checked baggage fee again. $8 more for the first bag (now $23), and $7 for the second bag (now $32). And that’s if you pay your fees online. If you wait until you show up at the airport, add another $2 ($25 total) for the first bag and another $3 ($35 total) for the second. What I don’t understand is this: The policy is effective today, January 12, for anyone who purchased tickets on or after January 5. But the policy was only announced on the 11th. How is this legal, especially in light of the DOT “crackdown” on post-purchase changes to the contract of carriage? I smell a rat.

Upgraded: Travel for People with Nut Allergies
Travelers with nut allergies may soon find a nut-free-zone on Canadian airlines. Complaints filed against Air Canada yielded the ruling, which requires the airline to create a buffer zone within 30 days of the early-January ruling. What other cordoned-off areas will we see on planes now?…

Downgraded: The One-Way Ticket Myth
Mythbusting on the details: Umar Abdulmutallab, the crotch bomber, did not travel to Detroit on Christmas Day on a one-way ticket, despite nearly every major news organization’s reports to the contrary. He might have set off a thousand other warning flags if the data mining and information sharing within the US security community were up to full speed, but a one-way ticket was not one of those flags.

Upgraded: Jokes about TSA drug use
Jimmy Fallon: “Four TSA workers at LAX were videotaped snorting drugs. It was the first time people had ever seen lines go that fast at the airport.” Hey-ohhhh…



jal 737 jex Weakening oneWorld: JAL wants to join SkyTeam
Japan’s most famous (and, recently, most beleaguered) airline, JAL, has apparently opted to leave the oneWorld alliance for SkyTeam. Viewed through an USA-based frequent flyer lens, that’s a win for Delta (and potentially those who hold Delta miles), and a definite blow for American Airlines and their mileage addicts.

Delta and its SkyTeam partners didn’t just win this on their good looks and winning personality. They are offering a bailout package of nearly $1 billion. (American and Texas Pacific Group offered to invest $1.1B; I’m not familiar with the details of the deals, and that’s not my concern here. And nothing is signed yet — AA says they’re still negotiating.)

The combination of JAL and Delta would be a formidable force, if traffic remains at current levels. One report estimates the JAL-enhanced Skyteam market share at 62% of traffic between the US and Japan. Star Alliance (United, ANA, and Singapore) hold 31%, leaving a mere 9% in oneworld (entirely AA).

But JAL has signaled that it would drop 30 (or even all) of its international routes, ceding that traffic to alliance partners and codesharing instead. And Japan’s other major airline, ANA, is looking to snap up routes and landing rights which JAL gives up. So those market share percentages are far from set in stone.

In the long run, the decrease in competition is bound to exert upward pressure on trans-Pacific fares. The deal will need to undergo antitrust scrutiny, of course.

Intermediate-term losers here are American Airlines’ loyal customers who use their miles to fly to Asia. A major mileage redemption opportunity for AAdvantage mileage holders is about to disappear, either through JAL’s switch to SkyTeam, or their erosion/implosion. If you’ve got American miles, your currency is about to lose value, as you’re about to lose some redemption opportunities.