A week ago I read a piece over on Forbes about the Delta Air Lines’ amazing turnaround over the past decade. I didn’t realize how dire things were for the airline back in 2009. Delta and Northwest, both hemorrhaging cash, managed to strike a deal that would combine two struggling airlines into one. The hope was that the airline would simply survive. Becoming solidly the best U.S. airline wasn’t even on the radar.
The bet worked. Delta has gone on to become an excellent carrier over the past decade. From business travelers, to their employees, to Wall Street, all are singing the Delta’s praises.
Now with five year of profits exceeding $5 billion and the largest market capitalization of any airline, they are king of the hill. But it is little wonder that Delta carved out its place as the best U.S. airline.
Delta Has The Best Service Culture
My experience is obviously anecdotal, but Delta’s staff are solidly the best among the three major airlines. I’ve yet to have a truly poor service interaction with any of their staff. Considering the number of times United has let me down and the surly flight attendants I’ve encountered on the few American flights I’ve taken, this isn’t a high bar. But they go above and beyond.
Behind the success is Delta’s profit-sharing program where the airline pays out a chunk of the company’s profits to their employees. In 2017, this amounted to around $1 billion, 10% of Delta’s pre-tax earnings. If distributed equally among employees, this would have been over $10,000 per person.
The 2019 bonus is even bigger at $1.3 billion. Every Delta employee will be paid 14% of their base annual salary as a bonus. Taking the case of a ramp agent making $45,000 per year, Delta is putting another $6,300 in their pocket.
It’s little wonder that Delta has made the list of 100 best companies to work for. Taking care of your employees means they come to work happy, they feel fulfilled in their jobs, and they take care of customers. Not to mention the 86,000 Delta employees are non-unionized (aside from the pilots). This is what happens when you maintain a vision for your workforce and treat your staff well. The lack of union leadership pitted against management also leave you without the “us versus them” mentality.
Delta has a family. I mean, their employees once bought them a 767. That truly is the spirit of Delta.
Not to mention employees are empowered to be generous and understanding. I cannot express my gratitude to the Delta agent who waived the $200 per ticket cancellation fee when I explained the situation that had us canceling tickets last-minute. This was just the first of several service interactions over the next 18 months that made me a solid fan of the airline.
Delta Is Preferred By Business Travelers
Delta has been named the best U.S. airline for business travelers on more than one occasion. I absolutely agree, and I pick them for the all business travel that I can. If I need to get somewhere on time, I pick Delta, as flying arriving on time with United is a bet I’m not willing to make.
Besides the superior operations, the airline has other amenities that help it stand out for business travelers. Their SkyClubs are better, for one. I’ve only set foot in three, including Salt Lake City and San Francisco, but both have been better than virtually any United or American Club I’ve visited.
The airline is even being proactive about targeting future business travelers.
Admittedly, Delta’s weakest aspect is their frequent flyer program, which is an issue for some when considering business travel loyalty. However, I’m a fan of their elite program. With the ability to earn both significant Medallion Qualifying Miles and Dollars from partner flights, solid co-branded credit cards that offer the ability to boost your status, Delta makes it easier to reach the great array of perks at the upper tiers.
But the value of their redeemable miles isn’t always the best. All other things being equal, I would take an equivalent number of United miles, given the choice. But this doesn’t mean there is no value. Delta often runs some excellent award sales, and depending on your flexibility and travel plans, you could easily score tickets for fewer miles than with other airlines.
Sure, premium cabin redemption can cost a fortune, but I’ll contend that burning 85,000 miles per person to fly China Airlines business class is a fine deal.
But miles mean nothing matter when an airline messes up your vacation plans or fails to get you to an important work meeting. I’m willing to overlook the weaker value due to Delta’s strong operation.
Delta Is A Good Bet Financially (As Far As Airlines Go)
Delta has had an excellent 2019 financially. If you simply look at market capitalization, they are definitely the best U.S. airline. Their second quarter earnings exceeded estimates with an revenue of $12.5 billion, an increase of 20% year over year. Things have slumped a bit later this year, but their 2019 is still looking to be a fine year in terms of profits.
Yet the financial footing of an airline is always tenuous. Even with Delta’s record profitability, there are numerous things that could undermine this. Airlines are complex operations, with multiple unique staff complements and supply chains that are out mostly of their control (think 737MAX issues and the price of oil). They can also be casualties of political unrest, as we’re seeing with Hong Kong Airlines and Cathay Pacific with the ongoing democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Still, if there was ever an airline I’d be willing to invest in, it is Delta. The carrier is projected to do well by financial analysts, with some anticipating share prices to rise 20% or more within the next two years. With a market cap of $38 billion already, this adds tremendously to the valuation of the airline.
Delta Has Strong Partnerships
My mouth dropped open when the news broke that Delta was entering into a partnership with LATAM. The loss of this carrier represents a massive blow to American Airlines. LATAM will be exiting their partnership with American and leaving the Oneworld alliance completely. This comes of the heels of American attempting to secure a joint venture with the Chile-based carrier, which was blocked by that countries supreme court. This will take them from having a lackluster presence in South America in terms of partners to one of the best.
In Europe Delta has strong partnerships with Virgin Atlantic, KLM and Air France. Admittedly, the other major U.S. airlines have great European partnerships as well, such as American’s relationship with British Airways and United with Lufthansa Group.
In Asia Delta has Korean Airlines as a major partner, entering into a joint venture with the Seoul-based carrier. The JV partnership has already spurred growth for Korean Airlines. Other partners in Asia include China Eastern and Taiwanese flag carrier China Airlines. In the land down under, Delta has Virgin Australia.
The only continent on which Delta doesn’t have a strong partnership is Africa. But with their own service to a select number of countries, from South Africa to Senegal, and plenty of additional service through European partners KLM and Air France, Delta provides enough connectivity to Africa as well.
All This Makes Delta the Best U.S. Airline
I freely admit that Delta Air Lines has been my favorite airline since I started flying them more regularly for work in early 2018. Things got so bad during a couple work trips, with multiple significant delays and botched experiences with United, that I will literally drive four hours to fly Delta instead.
They haven’t let me down. The staff are great and the experience is always a pleasant one. Through credit card spend and enough travel, I managed to hit more than low-tier status for the first time in my life, securing Delta Platinum Medallion for 2019 (sadly, my 2020 plans went off the rails).
But I don’t plan to abandon Delta anytime soon. They actually get things right, which can be rare in airline customer service. I’ll happily go out of my way (and even pay a bit more) to fly them. Delta is solidly the best U.S. airline.
I think that Delta is the best of major American carriers. The experience I had recently is proof of that. This post is a little long and you can skip to the last paragraph for some lessons learned and tips. I was on a long-haul business trip so I’m able to travel in Business class which is a great benefit. I have to make connections, so I always book flights with extra time in-between to allow for delays. Itinerary as booked: Leg #1 PBI/ATL on Sun Dec 8 leaving at 12:15 to around 14:00 was the schedule. Leg #2 ATL/FCO… Read more »
I always appreciate when an airline is proactive. Delta and Alaska are the best at this.
Delta the best? Hahahaha, that’s funny. Clearly you’ve never flown Alaska. Or just maybe you enjoy flying to MSP, DTW, SLC, or ATL. Flights to Delta’s hubs are about the only thing they get right…and lets not even speak of their SkyMiles program…blah!
I have flown Alaska, and they are an excellent airline as well. But Lord have mercy if you need to actually get anywhere regional back east. The hub and spoke model can’t be all the foreign, unless you fly point-to-point West Coast flights only?
Those of us with a long memory know why Delta have so many routes into Africa and beyond. They were PanAm’s routes. And PanAm was a fantastic airline that shocking management somehow managed to ruin. Why the US Government did not step into save it left me bewildered. To the world at large PanAm WAS the United States. The impact of a company with such a stellar reputation going bankrupt delivered a huge blow to American prestige. From that moment on I have viewed American style capitalism with cynicism & suspicion. NOTHING matters except the bottom line.
Yes I remember PanAm. I got into the travel business back in 1969 and flew them many times. Enjoyed their 747 upper deck dining and overall great service.
PanAm was as you said the US. I remember going to Poland in the mid 70’s with my mom (her first trip back since the war) and when the PanAm 707 pulled up at the Warsaw airport for our ride home I felt that pride and feeling that I was home.
The transition into deregulation was hard for a lot of carriers. It is a bummer that Pan Am didn’t make it, although they had a lot of time to do so.
Lots of provincially stupid comments here. Alaska Air?
This is obviously a big 4 discussion or I’d be matching your the Alaskan freak-outs with cries of JetBlue.
It can be argued that Alaska has the most excellent frequent flyer program, which is what many folks are looking for. If you are on the West Coast, they are an excellent airline. But as you mention, they are provincial, as coverage beyond the U.S. West, Hawaii, and Alaska is weak.
Exactly – Thank you. Alaska is weak because of scope. So is JetBlue.
That said, I love Delta but in terms of “regionals”, both Alaska and JetBlue beat Delta.
Living in Denver I rarely fly Delta. Nonetheless, if you were to approach this in any scientific way (surveys, more opinions than your own, etc…), you will find Southwest to be the favorite among the US carriers.
I get the hub aspect. Lots of people don’t care for Delta since they’ll offer only direct flights to their hubs.
What I was hoping to show by my *obvious* overstatement of “everyone” was as in more than just passengers (labor, investors, etc.).
I won’t fly Southwest for any reason. No first or business class, no seat assignments, terrible service the one time I flew them, casting me dollars and time, so bad I threw away return ticket and flew back on a real carrier. Wile I am not yet a full fan of Delta, American is leaving me no choice in the matter. Southwest, is never an option, I need a good seat with lots of leg room and I can not get that on them!
People either seem to love Southwest or hate them completely. I rarely meet any frequent flyer who is indifferent. My boss *loves* Southwest and complained the one time I convinced him to fly Delta with me (only time we’ve traveled together). That was the one time I was glad my upgrade *didn’t* clear, as I could have awkwardly left him in coach!
What sets them apart for me is their aircraft comfort and amenities. Having an AVOD and live TV system on their planes puts them clearly ahead of the others. And despite full flights I don’t feel as cramped as on other airlines. They do need to do something about the ridiculously long boarding times though. When I fly abroad somehow the foreign carries can load a widebody in 15 minutes. DL takes at least 45 to load a 757 or A321
15 minutes to load a wide body? How many passengers were on this flight?
Somehow Japan can do crazy things like this.
I did completely fail to mention the IFE. That is a huge plus as well. If Delta moves to free WiFi that is actually good, they’ll force other carriers to in this direction, which’ll be huge across the board.
I just lost time reading this garbage I will never get back.
The concept of boarding/deplaning via multiple aircraft doors is lost upon US carriers who insist on almost exclusively using only one door when simply opening the back door will halve load/unloading times…
Honestly, the times I’ve gotten to do this (mostly with small AS planes via stair) for boarding, it is super nice.
Because they belong to Skyteam.
Is Delta paying this blogger? You are absolutely delusional if you think Delta is superior to Alaska Airlines. We’ll agree, Delta is the best of the “Big 4” (American, Delta, United & Southwest), but it doesn’t hold a candle to Alaska. Furthermore, Skymiles is a joke. At least with Alaska you earn miles based on travel distance, not what you paid the airline for the ticket.
I can say honestly Alaska is a great airline and their frequent flyer program is excellent. I’ve flown them several times up and down the West Coast. But when I can’t buy a ticket to half the destinations I want to visit (not to mention my primary work destination), and partner earning is fairly poor, they don’t work well for me.
Yes Alaska is a great airline but as stated they have a limited footprint. I did a status match to MVP 75K Gold a year ago when we were flying them out of MCO. No preferred check-in and no priority treatment of checked bags. Same for another check-in at SAN.
Yes the service was nice but in my mind not any better than I get on Delta.
I don’t see where anyone was comparing Delta to Alaska. The original post was comparing Delta to American and United.
It is interesting how you tried to minimize the fact that delta has not presence in Latin America and put up their yet to be partnership with Latam. A A has a strong presence on its own metal. Yes, the much larger one than Latam itself. Latam Does not provide business class in domestic / Latin America flights
Well…it is an *upcoming* partnership. AA may have a strong presence on its own metal, but access to the LATAM network will solidify Delta as one of the best options. Only United’s partner network may be better with Avianca, COPA, and Azul. But LATAM is a better airline across the board. AA’s will be decimated.
Something is wrong with you if you’re driving an extra FOUR HOURS to fly Delta over another domestic carrier. That’s just ridiculous.
Well…it’s not just the time factor. Cost is also a consideration. Typical ticket out of our regional airport is $800-$1,000 for work. Out of Sacramento, it is $500-600. Driving reduces me to 1 connection instead of 2, and it’s 4.5 hours versus 45 minutes from home. Overall, I end up with close to the same length of travel day.
How much did Delta pay you? Lol
I’ve received a whopping $0 from Delta Air Lines. 😉
Your article was hilarious. Please let me know when you will post a follow-up. Maybe something about how MySpace is the best social media platform. I need another good laugh.
Your comment gave me a chuckle!
DISABLED FLYER Last summer, my hubby and I went to Hawaii via Delta. Soon after I booked our trip (first class all the way), each and every flight I booked was changed. I am disabled so I am very careful about the seats, days and times. When I called the airlines to change THEIR changes, it was often NOT an easy process. No one wanted to take responsibility to make the changes and not to charge us. When the last change was made, for the last flight, I was VERY upset and wanted compensation! Eventually, they did give us a… Read more »
Ouch. This sounds like a total disaster. 🙁
Two airlines that are really bad, in ground and flight servie: DELTA and AEROMEXICO. I WILL AVOID THEM.
US and international service equally bad….
I’ve not experienced Aeromexico service, so I have no opinion of them. But I’ve been more than satisfied with Delta. They’ve even improved long-haul economy since I flew them long-haul last.
Just because a company throws money at their people one day a year doesn’t mean they’re treated well the other 364. Your assumption that not being unionized is the reason for the stellar customer service is, just that, an assumption.
In my experience, Non-unionized shops are always happier. No union thugs who get fat off of member dues to rile them up.
With all due respect, that’s a totally one-sided, and antiquated view of union members. Delta pilots, and dispatchers, who have more control of f getting pax to their destination on time are union. Are the APLA member/union officers thugs? Was Betty Ong, an AA f/a on the first flight to be hijacked on 9/11 and gave her airline Mgmt vital information about what was happening, and died, a union thug? Have you heard of Sara Nelson, the President of the Association of Flight Attendants , the face of today’s labor movement? Well, she is no George Meany. I can respect… Read more »
I think you are equating a money with being treated well. Being paid well is only part of what employees expect from an employer. Money does not equal respect.
Except by most accounts they are treated well the other 364. The lack of a union invariably leads to a whole lot less of the “us versus them” mentality. Just consider all the trouble American has been through with their FA and mechanics unions the past few years.
Please provide sources for that information. Or, what survey you used to arrive at that assumption. There have more than 100,000 employees worldwide, did you get accounts from most of them?
https://fortune.com/2017/03/10/delta-air-lines-best-companies-list/ “first time an airline made the cut in a dozen years”
And I hate to break it to you, but being paid well by a company who also treats you well is pretty much the *best* way to endear your employees to your organization. I’ve been in that boat now for over 6 years.
They throw money benefits food cake parties gifts opportunities to advance a career etc. it’s a Great place to work!!!
When I saw the headline, I thought it was satire. My wife and I have had enough bad experiences with Delta that if I want a guaranteed fight, all I have to do is suggest to her that we try flying Delta again. These are just personal experiences, which does nothing to address just how painfully awful Skymiles is as a loyalty program. Some people like Delta and I’m okay with that, but in our experience, they’re pretty awful.
I thought the same with United after our first bad experience. Gave them several chances. Sure, things go well now and then. But I’ve had 4-5 really bad experiences (multiple cancellations and massive delays), which made me look beyond them.
I thought the same. Delta Airlines never even enters the discussion when the topic is Best US Airlines. As a lot of the responders commented. Alaska and Southwest are the clear favorites.
Delta is paying this blogger. NO ONE AGREES THAT DELTA IS THE BEST ANYtHING. AS a Delta hub captive, I Personally take a connection to avoid Delta. United all the way way here, such a difference in decent service and attitude. Delta and their attitudes sucks.
I’m not sure which United Airlines you fly, but it doesn’t seem to be the same one I do.