I’ve been flying Delta more in the last year or so than I have in the past, enough to earn Silver Medallion status with them. I was blessed with the gift of Gold Medallion late last year as well. I don’t think it’s any secret that among the domestic legacy airlines, I prefer to fly Delta above the others. Their people are almost always just a touch more pleasant, their planes cleaner, and the onboard experience a little better than anyone else. I haven’t missed a pre-departure beverage on Delta in First Class in…well….I don’t remember. Not the biggest deal on earth, but a tangible symbol that an airline has it just a bit more together than others.

Overall, if I could take Delta and merge it with American’s mileage program, and United’s Economy Plus seating, I’d have just about the ideal U.S. based airline. You can’t have everything though, so life goes on, although Economy Comfort is coming soon to a Delta international flight near you! I’ve posted on this blog, and there’s plenty of other evidence out there that I won’t be discussing today that SkyMiles, Delta’s mileage program, has its challenges with award availability, especially for international premium cabin flights. I don’t want this post to be about that, however. I’m going to write a series of posts about things I like about flying Delta, starting with Sky Priority.

Rolled out on April 15, 2010, Sky Priority, unifies a smattering of travel services that were already provided to elite Medallion and high fare customers under one easy to remember name. If you are traveling in First or Business Elite, or have attained Gold, Platinum, or Diamond Medallion, as well as SkyTeam Elite Plus, you receive Sky Priority service automatically. Alaska Airlines MVP Gold customers receive Sky Priority service as well. Sky Priority includes access to a priority reservations line, dedicated check-in areas, priority security lines, Zone 1 boarding, and priority baggage delivery. I’m a big fan of priority boarding, and the few times I’ve checked luggage, my bag has always been among the first delivered. One other nice thing…. check in online, and your printed boarding pass will include a coupon for a cocktail, headset, or snack item. Perfect for those days when the upgrade doesn’t clear.

Thanks to Delta’s super-fab social media team, I was able to touch base with a Delta spokesperson involved with the rollout of Sky Priority. I had a few questions I wanted to ask just to get some more inside perspective from Delta on how it views Sky Priority.

MJonTravel: I’d like to know a little more about the history of Sky Priority.

Delta Spokesperson: Sky Priority was developed to enhance the service our most frequent and high-value customers receive through their travel experience with Delta. The 5 percent of our customers that are eligible for Sky Priority make up just over 25 percent of our revenue. We looked at all of the benefits that these customers were receiving for new opportunities to present an experience that was well branded and consistent throughout each customers travel with us.

MJ: Is Sky Priority just renaming a bunch of different benefits that already existed, or is there something extra in those benefits that weren’t there before?

Delta: While most of the benefits were available to customers prior to Sky Priority, the roll-out presented some opportunities to improve upon those benefits. For example, Priority Bags were one of the benefits that customers noticed significant improvement in with the roll-out of Sky Priority as a result of both improved tracking and additional focus on this as a benefit of the program. Our Diamond Medallion customers also gained access to a VIP Line (March 1, 2010) that was previously announced when we introduced the new top tier. (So that is a new benefit.) Airport signage was updated and clarified for customers, both at the ticket counter and in the boarding areas to provide a better and consistent, branded experience as well.

MJ: Has Sky Priority been modified in any way since roll-out in response to customer feedback or Delta’s own experiences with the product?

Delta: Perhaps one of the best examples of modifications to the program came within the first 30-60 days after we launched. As part of the changes, we re-ordered the boarding zones in a way that our research showed would be the most efficient. Customer feedback indicated confusion and frustration with the change, so we quickly worked to update the boarding process. The description of the boarding process change can be found in our initial post to FlyerTalk (http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/13740896-post4.html) and updated them with our changes to the process was posted here (http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/14027405-post1195.html) in direct response to customer feedback. (MJ adds: this is something I noticed as an issue early on, and I’m glad Delta acted fairly quickly to fix it.)

MJ: Any future enhancements in the pipeline?

Delta: No changes in the near-term, however we are constantly evaluating the program of opportunities to make it better in the future.

Some other information I found interesting. According to Tim Mapes, SVP Marketing, speaking at Delta’s annual investors’ day last December, “…we actually did ethnographic research, where you monitor people’s heart rates at different elements of the customer experience, and you saw their heart rate go up at security, up at boarding, up when they went to the baggage carousel to get their baggage. And we call those moments of truth.” “Customers might call them a point of pain. Nonetheless we devoted ourselves to trying to figure out what it was we could do to make that experience not only better, but the best available in this industry on behalf of these customers, because it is back to speed and recognition of who these customers are, and our ability to demonstrate that through the experience.”

Obviously, Delta put a little thought into Sky Priority, and my personal experience has been that it shows. I’m looking forward to Sky Priority on my next Delta flight.