If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything about travel, it's that even the tiniest perks can make the biggest difference in the overall experience. And more than two years after the virus forced airlines to trim down in-flight offerings, the industry is now attempting to win customers back, whether it's expanding their schedules or refreshing their fleet of aircrafts. But despite their best efforts, it hasn't all gone according to plan—especially when it comes to unforeseen delays. Now, Delta is the latest carrier to come under fire for recent changes affecting some of its customers. Read on to see why the airline is catching flack from travelers.
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Delta has made many changes affecting the travel experience lately.
It wouldn't be an understatement to say that the travel industry has struggled more than most due to the pandemic. But despite the hardships, large carriers like Delta have strived to keep customers happy as they return to the skies, both with familiar perks and new offerings.
On June 14, the airline announced that it would be selling in-flight meals in its economy seating section on flights longer than 1,500 for the first time in two years. And in March, the carrier announced that it would update its SkyMiles membership program to permanently allow passengers to earn Medallion Qualification Dollars, Medallion Qualification Segments, and Medallion Qualification Miles good towards loyalty status with the airline even on award flights, The Points Guy reported.
However, the carrier hasn't been without its fair share of missteps. In May, a leaked internal memo to staffers showed that the airline was cutting back its schedule through the summer in hopes of improving flight time reliability in the face of "extreme demand," saying the changes would drop total aircraft hours cut by "several percentage points." And now, it appears another policy shift from the company is drawing the ire of some of its top customers.
Delta customers are upset with the airline's recent change to a popular perk.
On June 1, new rules went into effect that changed the eligibility for access to Delta Sky Club airport lounges around the world. The new policy prohibits any travelers from entering the coveted pre-flight waiting area more than three hours before their scheduled departure time, making it the first major airline to establish such limits, The Wall Street Journal reports. Now, digital kiosks are being installed nationwide at Sky Clubs that will scan boarding passes and determine who can enter based on their flight time.
According to Delta, the company made the policy shift in an effort to combat overcrowding at a time when airport crowds are returning to pre-pandemic levels. "We're not a WeWork," Claude Roussel, managing director of Delta Sky Club, told The Wall Street Journal.
Some Delta frequent flyers feel the Sky Club time limit won't solve the overcrowding problem.
According to Roussel, Delta followed a similar change made by American Express at its Centurion Lounges in 2019 to cut back on capacity issues, The Wall Street Journal reports. However, when the policy shift was first announced, some frequent flyers complained that the partnership between the airline and credit card company that allowed passengers holding an American Express Platinum access to Sky Clubs was more to blame for overcrowding than early arriving business travelers.
Some flyers argue that their early arrival at the airport isn't to take advantage of a free workspace or food, but instead due to issues with traffic and long lines at the airport itself. "Gyms don't say, 'You came too many times this month. You can't come in until you wait a few days,'" Jack Armstrong, a Delta frequent flyer with elite status and lounge access, wrote in a recent Yelp review, per The Wall Street Journal. "Same principle with an airport lounge, especially if you buy flights frequently on Delta and want to have a space to relax."
Still, others pointed out that the airline's emphasis on making the lounges an over-the-top experience might be to blame for the recent influx of visitors, some of which now include outdoor decks and food from top-tier chefs. Before the recent upgrades, "the lounge was quiet and you could get a drink, but that was about it," Tom Pack, a Delta frequent flyer who holds elite status with the airline, told The Wall Street Journal.
Delta walked back one other major lounge change but is reportedly considering another controversial move.
As unpopular as the recent changes may appear, the limited access rule is actually a few steps back from the initial policy shift the first airline proposed in May. Initially, Delta announced that most passengers would also lose access to lounges at their arrival airport before walking back the rule in the face of customer backlash. However, even with the rule changes, the airline still allows any passengers on a long layover or stranded at an airport due to a delay to access Sky Clubs for more extended stays.
But it's not just when passengers are allowed to access the lounge that the airline is changing: it's also how quickly some can get inside. Delta is now experimenting with an expedited entry line for top-tier Medallion loyalty members—which includes top-level Diamond Medallion flyers and the invite-only Delta 360 members—and Delta One passengers that allow them to bypass others waiting to enter particular Sky Clubs, travel news website The Points Guy reports. So far, the carrier is only testing the new system at lounges in its headquarters hub at Atlanta Hartsfield Airport.
While representatives for Delta say they process all customer feedback, the company may still be sticking with its controversial Sky Club time limit decision. "It's always difficult to go first, because when you go first you typically get all the criticism," Roussel told The Wall Street Journal regarding the time limit rule change. "But you also get a lot of the benefits."