Delta just made employees feel like average customers and they really don't like it

There will be many conflicting opinions about this.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer
Airplane in the sky

The mordant pain of exclusion.

NurPhoto/Getty Images

How do you keep employees happy?

Somehow, the pandemic exposed the limited abilities of many managers to do that. 

So much so that quite a few have been let go lately, especially from tech companies.

How much, though, is it the managers' fault? 

How much, in fact, are they merely executing short-term, money-grabbing policies made on high?

These thoughts, among several others, may currently be crossing the minds of several Delta Air Lines employees.

The status of the nation is variable

In recent times, Delta has reaped the joys of a partnership with American Express. One of the benefits, for Amex Platinum cardholders, was that they could waft into Delta lounges and feel even more important.

Also: These are my 5 must-have devices for work travel now

Meanwhile, many others enjoyed the same privileges. Those who, for example, actually paid for Delta Sky Club privileges.

The result was what might be a described as a twisted eyesore. There were lines of desperate status-seekers garlanding major airports. Some Delta lounge employees even popped out to give these status-seekers a touch of sustenance for their trouble.

Delta then tried to alleviate the problem. It decided to create a two-tier system, where only the most exalted got instant access.

Next, the airline removed lounge access for some of those lower down on the status ladder to the sky.

Was this enough? It wasn't. Delta, after all, doesn't have separate business-class lounges, so the airline concluded more sifting of the privileged had to be done.

Also: Flying soon? Flighty is must-have iOS app for air travel

This time, the airline has targeted its own employees. From this month on, Delta employees flying thanks to their employee privileges are banned from entering the airline's own lounges.

As if to poke both their eyes, Delta told employees they wouldn't get a discount on Sky Club membership either. Mind you, why would they want to buy it when it still might not be enough to get them into the lounge?

Objection, Your Honor

This was all getting a touch awkward. And painful. And, for some flight attendants, utterly unacceptable.

How do I know this? Well, Silviano Blan, a Delta flight attendant, has launched a petition for the airline to "Restore lounge access that employees paid for."

To be clear, Delta is reimbursing employees pro rata for the amounts they paid to join the Sky Club. But this isn't just about the money, is it? It's about the insult.

In his petition, Blan explained the problem: "Like thousands of other Flight Attendants and Pilots, I don't live in the city where I'm based for work. For me, Sky Club access means that there's a quiet place I can relax when I'm commuting back and forth between my home in Phoenix and my base in Salt Lake City. I pay a $550 annual fee for the Sky Miles credit card because Sky Club makes a big difference in my life."

Some might muse that there really isn't a quiet place in these Sky Clubs. When a lounge is near or at capacity, it can resemble the rest of the airport. Too many people, not much food, and too much noise.

Still, Blan explains the issue isn't merely one of life quality.

He says: "Not only will Delta's sudden decision hurt my quality of life, I'll also have to choose whether to cancel my credit card. I've already paid the annual fee, so that's money I can't get back. If I cancel my card, it also hurts my credit. All because Delta decided employees wouldn't be allowed to use the Sky Club even if we pay for it."

The anger of the 7,000

I feel sure some accountant came along to influence Delta's decision. "Where will the airline lose the least money?" tends to be the sort of question that gets priority access.

The petition, which seeks 8,000 signatories, garnered 7,300 in its first week. Some employees even offered commentary.

"Working for an airline that's slowly taking away the perks of travel doesn't make the job worth while anymore," said one.

Another offered greater detail: "TIME FOR EMPLOYEES TO UNIONIZE! Poor planning on their part shouldn't be fixed by banning employees. Spoke to someone very familiar with the situation at the sky club and they say employees are not the problem there's less than 5% usage of the sky clubs by employees."

I suspect, though, that some customers may look at all this and whisper: "Now you know how we feel."

Also: The best travel VPNs

Delta's flight attendants aren't unionized. But, perhaps to make them feel better, the airline just announced they're getting a 5% raise -- their second raise in the last year.

Will that make any difference? Making your employees feel good -- especially when it's your daily job to make customers feel good -- is a tricky maneuver.

Just as tech companies are taking away employee privileges, so Delta seems to be following.

Perhaps the difference is that at least some of, say, Google's employees can be replaced by ChatGPT. That's not so easy with flight attendants.

I'm sure Delta's working on it, though.

Editorial standards