Delta Came Back to American Hat in Hand to Be Able to Re-accommodate Customers

This morning we learned that Delta and American re-started their interline agreement allowing each airline to book seats on the other carrier in the event of irregular operations. It’s limited to this re-accommodation function, but that’s what customers primarily care about and it’s the key item Delta refused to allow in September 2015.

I wrote that this was Delta ‘eating crow’ having said they didn’t need this, and insisting on charging American substantially more than other airlines pay in these situations. One reader argued I wasn’t characterizing things fairly, arguing it’s “hard to say they’re eating crow when you dont know the terms of the deal.”

At the time I knew that:

  1. Delta initiated the talks
  2. Delta backed off of their demands from two years ago
  3. A source at American with knowledge of the discussions referred to this as ‘eating crow.’

American now confirms that that:

  1. Delta approached them about being able to re-accommodate passengers on their flights in the fall (before the Atlanta power failure but after numerous systems meltdowns over the past year and a half).

  2. The deal that was agreed to is similar to the deals they have with other carriers and neither side is paying a premium in this re-accommodation agreement.

In September 2015 Delta posted to their media site that accommodating customers on each others flights only helped American because Delta’s operation was just so good. They didn’t need it. So they expected to milk a premium to help American’s customers.

“Thanks to employees’ stellar operational performance, Delta customers enjoy an industry-leading experience. Unfortunately, we couldn’t reach an agreement with American that adequately addressed the number of IROPs customers that American transferred to us,” said Eric Phillips, Senior Vice President – Revenue Management. “In July, for example, American sent passengers to Delta for reaccommodation at a five-to-one ratio. At that rate the industry agreement was no longer mutually beneficial.”

Like Icarus they flew too close to the sun. Their IT systems shut down in August 2016 when they falsely blamed Georgia Power for the issue. Their IT melted down again in January 2017. Then a combination of weather and IT systems unable to function properly obliterated their system in April.

Last month Delta still claimed only weather could ever cause them to cancel flights again.

However each time their operation melted down there was a basic criticism at the ready — that their greed meant they didn’t have access to seats that would be able to help some of their customers. So they’ve gone and rectified that.

One wonders what United is thinking now, though, having been willing to pay the premium that Delta insisted on a little over two years ago. It’s time to re-negotiate I think.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary I have to agree with you. This is Delta eating crow. Delta initiated this. So since they initiated this they are eating crow. Their operation was not as good as they thought nor as good as they made it out to be. They lied and said that they had zero cancellations over Thanksgiving and were caught in a lie. How many other times have they lied?
    Delta wanted to charge AA $20,000,000 just to have an agreement and then charge them more per passenger. DL was very arrogant and I’m glad that they are eating crow and have been humbled.

  2. Bah, wish this would’ve happened a month ago.
    Had a Delta flight on 12/31/17 where the freaking engine wouldn’t start!
    The DL flight was positioning to get to Boston for an international itinerary on Iberia, final destination in Africa.
    They pulled back into the gate (after wasting 30 minutes de-icing…). I had already researched alternatives (using iPad on the place) and discussed hastily with gate agent staff our situation.
    They specifically mentioned they had no accommodation agreement, so… SOL. I told them to retrieve our gate-checked luggage and we’d be deplaning.

    Since there was no reaccommodation, had to purchase an AA ticket, at $550 each to get to BOS. (too close-in to book with miles.. which sucks because I have 500k AA miles, and there was availability!) Just had to walk away from 1/2 of that $$$ Delta ticket.

    Pretty pissed and disappointed with Delta’s “industry leading” operations…
    The AA flight left before the Delta plane was being even being looked at.

  3. Gary, I’ve always wondered: What obligation does an airline have to reaccommodate me on an interline partner same day? Let’s say I’m massively delayed on an AA flight, and they tell me they can get me out the next day on another AA flight; but there’s space on a DL flight (or connecting flights) same day. Are they obligated to put me on DL? Can I legitimately demand that they do so?

  4. It really makes sense for the legacies to have interline agreements for reaccomodation. It was foolish for DL to think otherwise, but at least they reversed course quickly.

    One of the biggest advantages of flying a major US carrier on a domestic route is the understanding that, if things go wrong, they will reasonably help you. The ULLC’s are generally very bad at this: their service is usually “plausible” when conditions are normal, but often horrible when they’re not. It pretty much takes only one “stranding” to convince most folks that they should pay a little more for the reliability of a major carrier. The modest cost of an interline agreement with AA is a way for DL to cement this difference.

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