Delta runs a better airline operation than its peers. The key here is Delta TechOps, which keeps Delta’s older fleet running more reliably than newer planes at other airlines and has also become a significant profit center for the business.
Their flights are more likely to run on time. They rarely cancel flights. So they don’t need to spend as much marketing or enticing customers to fly their planes (SkyMiles). And their super operational performance has even encouraged customers to stick to the Delta brand for their credit card and mileage earning despite offering a less valuable currency.
Delta can get away with playing hardball with SkyMiles members. United and American copy the customer-unfriendly changes Delta makes without realizing Delta can get away with those things because their techops keeps planes running on time and because they invest a little more in inflight experience. For instance Delta is testing three course meals in coach on the Portland – Tokyo route.
While American Airlines will be removing seat back video screens from their domestic fleet at they reconfigure Boeing 737s with the new Project Oasis interior (more seats, less legroom, less recline, less seat padding and smaller lavatories) along with Airbus narrowbodies to follow, Delta continues to add them reaching 600 aircraft with the touch screen televisions installed.
American Airlines Standard Domestic Seat Back
According to Delta’s Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Tim Mapes, “We continue to invest in seat-back screens, because customers continue to tell us they’re important.”
I don’t value airline inflight entertainment but I’m an outlier. I bring my own device and I make sure it’s loaded up with everything I need. Mostly I want to work on the plane, and need internet access, but when I’m too tired to work I’m picky about what I watch and plan ahead.
Last week though I was talking with a work colleague. Their family of 5, including a United Global Services member, flew Delta from Salt Lake City to DC (Delta has the only non-stop on the route). My coworker was blown away by Delta coach. He mareled at the touch screens which kept his kids entertained throughout the flight. They have iPads, but they don’t have five of them, and the kids use iPads all the time. This was something new and they were hooked.
Flight attendants checked on them several times, offered them drink refills, and even asked how the kids were doing. In other words Delta crew made them feel like something other than self-loading cargo. I hear this from customers all the time. They just want to feel a little bit human when they fly.
American’s CEO Doug Parker says delivering plan without seat back video is going for great. American says they’re planning for the future, that seat back screens become outdated (just like TVs at home have, or something?).
Customers can manage without seat back video, but whenever I shrug at seat back entertainment the response from readers is near-universal. Passengers in general value it. And if you’re not competing to offer a better customer experience, you’re just competing on price. It should be no surprise when that doesn’t yield better premium revenue. And that the stock market seems to value airlines that treat customers well and build their brand.