Delta Airlines turns 'can’t' into 'can-do'

In a stunning display of out-side-the-box thinking, Delta Airlines found a way to keep an overseas flight from being cancelled, saving an entire planeload of passengers a full day's delay.

Had the flight in question, Flight 55 from Lagos, Nigeria (LOS) to Atlanta (ATL), taken its planned non-stop route, its flight crew would have exceeded their maximum allowable flight hours in a rolling 28-day period, made the flight illegal, jeopardized the crew's licenses and livelihoods, and put the airline at risk of a substantial fine.

Faced with the choice between operating an illegal flight and a one-day delay to allow the crew to fly legally, higher-ups at Delta headquarters came up with a third option: fly to Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (SJU) in San Juan, Puerto Rico – a destination the crew could reach within their remaining time – bring in a fresh flight crew, and continue to ATL.

The bottom line: the flight arrived 40 minutes late rather than 24 hours late.

That is a dramatic turnabout for an airline that, after the merger with Northwest Airlines, was ranked among the worst big airlines for on-time arrivals, cancellations and baggage handling.

Read the entire Wall Street Journal article here.

This incident is just the latest sign that the airline’s leadership seems intent on improving the way it treats its customers.

In a survey conducted last March by a company called Ideaworks, Delta showed a marked improvement from the previous year’s survey of how easy it was to use accrued frequent flier miles on various airlines. The survey company tried to book seats using saver-style awards for parties of two travelers. In 2013, Delta had seats available on 36.4% of its flights, a 9.3% gain from the 27.1% of its flights in 2012. Read the full post here.

More recently, Delta announced a dramatic change to its Sky Miles frequent flier program. Instead of crediting passengers for the number of miles flown, Delta will credit passengers based on the cost of their ticket.

While crediting customers for dollars spent instead of miles flown mirrors the approach of several hotel chains’ guest loyalty programs, Delta is the first major U.S. airline to adopt such an approach. That vanguard move may be an indication of its leadership’s willingness to go against the grain, and perhaps an indication that, despite the continuing consolidation and shrinking competition among U.S. airlines, Delta intends to offer more, not less.

If so, that would be good news indeed. The traveling public will be watching.

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