They went after the money, not the customer. Delta/Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk
You’re on a business trip. Finally.
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You rush to JFK and, as soon as you get there, you have a thousand emails to deal with. And two incompetent bosses.
What do you do? You rush to the airline lounge, grab a drink, seat yourself in a nice armchair, pull out your digital hose, and start to douse your fires.
That isn’t so easy these days. Airline lounges are full. Somehow, too many people enjoy exalted status. Or, in many cases, credit cards that confer exalted status upon them.
This appears to have become a particular issue for Delta Air Lines.
Not so long ago, the airline decided it had to segment the privileged into the vastly privileged and the merely somewhat privileged. In Atlanta, it only let certain eligible people immediately into its lounges. The rest had to line up, as if they were queuing for Starbucks. Or passport control.
The sheer ignominy was palpable and painful.
The problem seemed largely to stem from, well, money. Of course.
American Express Platinum Card holders were garlanded with the privilege of Sky Club use. It seems there were more and more of them. More and more of them were flying. Suddenly, they were among those denied automatic access. As well as, controversially, those who had paid $845 a year for Sky Club membership.
It was like being a country club member and still having to line up to get in.
As the months have gone by, there have been varying reports of progress being made. Or not.
The most poignant came from a Delta regular, Jonathan Jacobs, who posted an image of an enormous line waiting to get into Delta’s Sky Club at JFK.
It only made one wonder why these people would bother waiting for so long, just to get a free drink and an armchair in a crowded lounge. For some, perhaps, status matters above all else.
Yet, it was USA Today reporter Zach Wichter who responded to this image with this: “I had a similar experience on Sunday. It moved pretty quickly though, and they brought some snacks from the club while we were waiting.”
I find myself oddly moved by this Delta gesture.
Someone, somewhere had stopped to consider what was happening outside the doors of the venerated club. They bothered to wonder: “Maybe we could throw these people a bone. Isn’t that what our airline is supposed to be known for? Thoughtfulness? Customer service?”
Supposed to be, yes. But no airline has recently demonstrated any sort of customer service capability, largely because so many able customer service agents were let go during the pandemic. Oh, and airlines don’t want to spend too much money on that pesky customer service thing anyway.
Wichter did add that Delta’s JFK lounge enjoyed a curious kink. He said when he finally entered the Sky Club, it was relatively easy to find a seat. Which leaves open the possibility that the airline is trying to make sure that, once you get in, you might encounter a relaxing atmosphere. Again, a pleasing thought.
There’s no true consensus as to how business travel may progress over the next months. What’s clear is that airlines are desperate for it, given the profitability it offers.
Perhaps even the smallest gestures will make a difference in encouraging executives to fly.
Even if that’s a sandwich or a few potato chips while you’re waiting in line to bathe in your status.