Reader's Replies

Here's your chance to join the fray and be heard.  You can respond to my columns and share your own opinions and insight.

  • Jim says that Delta might plan to use both doors on the 757s for faster unloading/reloading, but doubts it will work.
  • Tom points out two other problems with Delta's new airline plan.
  • Skip points out that this is not Delta's second, but actually is Delta's third attempt at running an airline.
  • An internet reader tries Southwest for the first time and names it his new favorite.
  • Al shares the previous writer's opinion.
  • Donald has a colorful way of describing Delta's cannibalization of its own market and yield.
  • Ira from New York points out that JetBlue is also a major competitor for Delta's new startup to contend with.
  • Jerry points out more reasons why the new Delta concept will fail.
  • Matt adds to the chorus of former supporters that have abandoned Delta in favor of Southwest
  • Peter wonders why everyone bashes the airlines but no-one bashes General Electric

Reader's Replies :  Other readers share their opinions and experiences.  You can too.  If you'd like to add your own commentary, please send me a note.



Jim from Tampa writes :  There is a way to turn around a 757 as quickly as a 737. The 757 has two sets of doors. One is just behind the cockpit. The other is further back, usually next to the partition that some airlines use to separate business class from coach. If there are two jetways, both doors can be used simultaneously to load and unload passengers. I believe that Delta plans to use such a system for the new carrier. My guess is that's why they are initially offering service between two airports in the northeast and two in Florida. If the system works, they will expend additional funds to modify gates at other airports.

Despite what I've said above, I still don't think that the concept will work. What Delta's employees lack is the teamwork approach that you find at Southwest and other upstart carriers. I've observed the crews at Southwest handle an aircraft arriving at a gate. Within seconds of the chock blocks being put under the wheels, bags are rolling off and fuel is being pumped. The gate agent operates the jetway and has the door open with passengers exiting. As soon as the last passenger has deplaned, the flight attendants go through the cabin disposing of trash left behind. The gate agent now has the emplaning passengers lined up in groups labeled A, B, and C. They are ready to board as soon as the cabin has been declared ready. Everyone knows their job and does it well. Twenty minutes after the chock blocks were put in place, they are removed and the aircraft is ready to roll. I've watched Delta people go through the same exercises. They just don't work together.

Recently, while seated at a window of a Delta MD-80, I observed the driver of a Tug vehicle arrive at the last minute with three bags that had not been loaded on the flight. There was no baggage handler next to the conveyor belt, but I'm certain that a worker was in the belly of the plane arranging bags. The driver placed two of the bags on the belt and the third bag partially on the metal lip a the bottom of the belt. He then started the belt and drove away without looking back. Had he looked, he would have seen that the third bag did not go up the belt. Several Delta employees walked or drove by. Nothing was done. It took at least five minutes for someone to come along and move the bag about 6 inches so that it would catch on the belt. This observation has convinced me that Delta is going to have quite a challenge in retraining it's people to get them to the efficiency level of the low cost carriers. If they can't do this, they can kiss their new airline (and possibly their old one) goodbye.

David replies :  I believe that Southwest may also use both doors at some airports.  But you are of course correct - both when you point out that passengers can deplane/emplane faster through two doors, and also when you point out that Delta has other challenges that will likely negate any efficiencies that using both doors might offer!

Tom from the East coast writes :  The additional question is how are they going to get 13.2 hours daily utilization per aircraft, flying between the northeast and Florida?  Also, so what if flight attendants work longer days in exchange for more days off --- that does not increase productivity!

David replies :  Labor costs are, of course, the biggest single cost category for any airline operation.  I haven't seen any details at all on how Delta plans to control and reduce its labor costs for its new operation, and one has to worry that Delta's silence on this vital point means that the issue remains, as yet, unresolved.

Skip from Tennessee writes :  If you want to see something with a different name that is an operating disaster, yet 100% owned and operated by Delta Air Lines, take a look at an outfit called ASA. That entity gives nightmares to its passengers and the cities whose travelers must rely on it.

An internet reader writes : I recently flew Southwest for the first time and it will now be, without question, my first choice regardless of price. On time. Comfortable. Good frequent flyer deals. Nice people.

I worry a lot about airlines running off to the government (taxpayers) for more loans. I suppose the government will give them what they want, depending upon their campaign contributions. For all of the radical republicans screaming about "socialism" and liberals, I'm not sure what we call these taxpayer loans.

Al from Mississippi writes :  Here in Jackson, Mississippi, Delta used to be "My Airline."  On a recent Southwest trip from Ft. Lauderdale to Jackson, a Miami lawyer and a retired couple from Monroe, La, shared my sentiments that Delta sucks and we don't fly them if we have a choice!

Donald from the internet writes :   In 1970, Robert Townsend wrote a book titled "Up the Organization". I have always felt that the book was way ahead of its time.

Anyhow, from that book, on the topic of "greed" (page 127):

To increase our share of the market a few years ago, I was on the verge of approving the startup of a new subsidiary -- which would compete with our bread-and-butter business -- at discount prices.   To verify my own brilliance, I tried the idea out on a tall, rangy regional vice-president named Stepnowski. After hearing the plan described in some detail, he sank the whole project with one sentence: "I don't know what YOU call it, but we Polacks call that 'pissing in the soup'"

DL is truly 'pissing in the soup'. I have to believe that Leo and Vicki have lost their marbles. After seeing what happened to US, UA, and CO in their "low cost" operations, why do they think that using a 757 will make all the difference??

Ira from New York writes :  Any reason why you didn't mention Jet Blue...currently the largest carrier on the NY to Southern Fla routes, a low cost carrier, and one that flies larger planes on it's routes?

David replies :  You are correct that JetBlue will be another major competitor that the Delta operation will have to contend with.  I did briefly refer to JetBlue in the red sidebar at the top of the article.

But you are not correct when you suggest that JetBlue operates larger planes.  It has a fleet of new Airbus A320 planes, each with a capacity of 162 passengers; substantially less than the 200-250 passengers that the 757 carries.

Jerry from the East Coast writes :  I fly Delta frequently, especially Boston to Florida, and I'm in complete agreement with you that this bird won't fly. You have some of the reasons, but I think you left off a couple of the important ones.

Jet Blue and Southwest have a larger seat pitch which gives a bit more comfort over Delta's cattle cars, and the attitude of Delta employees has steadily dropped over the last few years due to low morale.  Delta will reliably get you where you want to go, but to them you're a piece of meat packed tight to get you there. Anytime I can't get one of the better seats, I won't fly Delta.

American had added Florida flights this year and the tickets I have purchased thus far are on American.

David replies :  You're quite correct.  One of the problems the majors have is that they think that low cost carriers are all about giving even less service to their passengers. This is, of course, quite wrong, and the standard of service on the low cost carriers is often very much better than on the majors.

The positive attitudes of almost all Southwest employees, and the wonderful leather seats on JetBlue, are two features that Delta's new operation is unlikely to match.

Matt from the internet writes :  I think that you're absolutely right about Delta's new low-fare airline. They need to fix Delta, not start something new.

I used to fly DL all the time, but I don't anymore. I used up the last of my frequent flier miles with them, and I'm through. When it comes to friendliness and reliability, they aren't able to compete with Southwest, cattle call or not.

Peter from the internet writes :  Nice article on Delta, You obviously like bashing the airline industry like everyone else in this country. Why is it that no body bashes Home Depot, General Electric, Walmart, Cable Companies. etc etc etc !!!!! The list can go on for miles !

You should get your facts straight when you say 'it is unclear how the unions will react'.  The only union they have is the pilots union . The rest of the company pitches in to get the job done without any union interference.

Why don't you just put a smile on your face and be a happier person in life instead of trudging along in such a negative way...........

David replies :  You're absolutely wrong, Peter.  I hate 'bashing the airline industry' and nothing would make me happier than to never do so again.  But, can I suggest that you treat yourself to the pleasure of a flight sometime - tell me how you enjoy the sullen 'customer service', the lack of comfort on the plane, and the unnecessary inconveniences that surround every part of the travel experience.  And tell me also if you found it easy to make a shopping decision in the first place - do you feel that you accurately understood the different fares available to you and were able to easily choose the best (lowest) fare available?

I could go on and on.  I could point out that if I don't like something I buy at Walmart or Home Depot, I can return it for a full refund.  Try asking for a refund on your airline ticket.  I could point out that General Electric isn't asking the government for billions of dollars.  Comparing airline business practices with any other business - be it the ones that you name, or just about any other business, inevitably shows the airlines in a bad light and explains why it isn't just me, but, as you say yourself, it is almost everyone that hates the airlines.

Lastly, on the matter of the union or unions.  First of all, the pilots with their unsustainably high salaries can probably single-handedly make or break Delta's new operation.  Who needs multiple unions when you have pilots earning up to $300,000/year each for working as little as 80 hours a month!  Secondly, whether in unionized form or not, if Delta accepts the same workrules and compensation levels to its flight attendants, mechanics, and everyone else (including airline executives!) then what exactly is 'low cost' in its new airline?  Collective bargaining and across-the-board revisions in these issues are necessary.  Thirdly, although Delta doesn't have, eg, a flight attendant's union at present, they are sure trying to break in, and quite possibly, if Delta acts in a way that causes the flight attendants to feel threatened or disadvantaged, it may end up with a unionized labor force in its 'low cost' carrier, no matter what it has in its main operation!

I'm pleased to put a smile on my face, but I'm not going to adopt an unrealistic Pollyanna-ish view of the world.

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Copyright 2002 by David M Rowell.