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Updated March 28, 2021
This post is the third in a six part series of evaluating how the biggest US airlines are adapting to air travel demand during the Coronavirus pandemic. Here I will detail what Delta Airlines COVID plan is currently and how it may effect the future of air travel with the company. Delta Airlines is one of the legacy carriers in the US, along with American and United Airlines. Like in the rest of this series, I will look at how Delta Airlines COVID strategy effects elite status, cancellation/change policy, lounges, credit cards, cleaning protocols, masks and PPE, CARES Act and any other changes.
The first part of Delta Airlines COVID response is the Delta Medallion Status extension through Jan. 31, 2022. The company has not announced a reduction in the requirements to earn elite status for the next year. However, the airline is allowing members to roll over all Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) at the end of 2020 (including what was rolled over at the end of 2019) to 2021, which will help members qualify for Medallion status for 2022. The upper two tiers of the Medallion elite program (Diamond and Platinum) will have the ability to pick their Choice Benefits starting Feb. 2, 2021. Delta 360, the exclusive and invite-only group, will have their membership also extended through Jan. 31, 2022.
In regard to Choice Benefits for Platinum and Diamond Medallion members, Global/Regional Upgrade vouchers and $200 travel certificates that were set to expire between March 1 and June 30, 2020 are now valid through the end of 2020. Those that expire after June 30, 2020 will receive a six month expiration extension. Medallion drink coupons that have not been used will be extended six months from the previous expiration date. On June 10, Delta restarted “automatic, advance Medallion Complimentary Upgrades to Delta One (Domestic US), First Class and Delta Comfort+”. Skymiles Select participants will have their “Priority Boarding in Main Cabin 1” perk and remaining valid drink coupons extended for six months from original expiration date.
Another important aspect of Delta Airlines COVID strategy is how they are handling changes/cancellations. For customers that made reservations prior to April 17, those bookings will incur no change or award redeposit fees and the eCredits will be valid through December 2022. For travelers that already have eCredits or had to cancel reservations for travel between March and Sept. 30, 2020, will have their eCredit extended through Sept. 30, 2022. Reservations made from March 1 through June 30, 2020, will have no change or award redeposit fees for one year from purchase date. Changes or cancellations can be made in “My Trips” in your Delta account.
If a change or cancellation was necessary and you have an eCredit, it can be applied to a future booking by going to delta.com/redeem. Additionally, if the original flight was more expensive than the replacement flight is, then the fare difference is not lost. The remaining balance will be maintained for future travel. eCredits can be found by using your original ticket number. All applicable eCredits automatically will receive the extension to September 2022.
Delta has extended its change fee waiver for all domestic and international tickets (including Basic Economy tickets) through March 30, 2021.
In addition, Delta also announced a further step with change fees in the permanent elimination of all change fees for domestic and international (originating from North America) travel. This includes flights operated by joint venture and codeshare partners. This does not include Basic Economy tickets.
The airline also has eliminated the redeposit fee of $150 for a canceled award ticket and the reissue fee also of $150 to change an award ticket. The company has also gotten rid of the 72-hour before departure time frame requirement to cancel or change an award ticket. These changes to award ticket changes/cancellations exclude Basic Economy tickets.
There have also been changes inside Sky Club lounges as part of Delta Airlines COVID plan to protect employees and travelers. Like many of the other airlines, Delta announced on May 4 that all customers and employees inside the lounges will be required to have a face covering that covers both the nose and mouth. Sky Clubs will be reducing some of the services and offerings inside the lounge, mainly shower service and cutting some food and beverage options. Delta also announced that all Sky Club memberships, both paid and complimentary, and Guest Passes (as a Choice Benefit) that expire after March 1, 2020 will be extended through June 30, 2021.
Many of the Delta Sky Club lounges have temporarily closed during the current situation with travel during the pandemic. For the ones that remain closed, I could not find a definitive reopening date on Delta’s website. However, the following airports still have clubs that remain open: Atlanta/ATL (8 clubs open), Austin/AUS (1), Boston/BOS (1), Chicago/ORD (1), Cincinnati/CVG (1), Dallas/DFW (1), Denver/DEN (1), Detroit/DTW (2), NYC/La Guardia/LGA (2), Los Angeles/LAX (1), Miami/MIA (1), Minneapolis-St. Paul/MSP (1), Nashville/BNA (1), NYC/JFK (1), Orlando/MCO (1), Phoenix/PHX (1), Raleigh/RDU (1), Seattle/SEA (1), San Francisco/SFO (1), Salt Lake City/SLC (1), Tampa/TPA (1), Washington, DC/DCA (1), and West Palm Beach/PBI (1).
In addition, Gold Card members who have a $100 Flight Credit will have the expiration extended through Dec. 31, 2021. For Platinum and Reserve cardholders that have an unused Companion Certificate will have the expiration date extended through the end of 2021. Furthermore, Reserve cardholders’ one-time Guest Passes to Sky Club Lounges will be valid through Dec. 31, 2021.
Cleaning and Safety Protocols:
As part of Delta’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols, it has partnered with Mayo Clinic, Quest Diagnostics, Lysol and CVS Health to not only provide guidance in the most effective cleaning protocols but also to implement a COVID-19 testing program for its entire workforce.
There are major adaptations to the cleaning and safety procedures as part of Delta Airlines COVID strategy. The airline is installing social distancing signs throughout airports, including check-in areas, Sky Clubs, at gates and on the jetbridge to encourage travelers to maintain a safe distance from others as recommended by the CDC. The company has also stated that they will be placing plexiglass barriers (2,600 in total) at all counters (check-in, Sky Club and at the gate) throughout the airport to protect employees and customers. Onboard the aircraft a streamlined food and beverage service will be in effect, while also encouraging travelers to bring their own snacks and drinks to reduce contact.
The airline will also have hand sanitizer (5,300 stations total) available at all counters, gates, Sky Clubs, Help Centers, and Baggage Offices. As supplies allow, passengers may also receive care kits which may include hand sanitizer or a cleansing towelette. The company will also provide hand sanitizer and PPE (masks and gloves) to staff that come in close contact with customers.
In terms of cleaning in the airport and onboard the plane, the airline is going to increase the frequency of wiping down high touch points, such as counters, check-in kiosks, baggage claim areas. The company already uses electrostatic spraying (as of Sept. 2020 had used this method 300,000 times) on every flight before boarding starts but, this process will also take place throughout the airport to include TSA checkpoints. After spraying the cabin, the cleaning crew does a manual cleaning of the cabin surfaces, by wiping the high touch points (arm rests, sets, windows, and doors) throughout the plane.
The company is also starting to install Vyv antimicrobial LED lighting systems above the lavatory sinks and countertops. These lighting systems are non-UV light and can kill bacteria. It is safe for continuous use around humans and animals.
Delta uses the most up to date air circulation systems using HEPA filters on most planes that remove 99.99% of particles in the air. HEPA air filters completely circulate the cabin air every 2 to 6 minutes. Additionally, the company has gone a step further to replace more than 500 HEPA air filters, twice as often as recommended. The airline has also installed more than 600 LEED Platinum MERV14 filters in jetways/jetbridges to ensure the air in that space is also the cleanest possible. A study done by the Department of Defense found that, thanks to these filtration systems, the air on commercial aircraft is safer than the circulating air in homes and in hospital operating rooms.
According to a Georgia Tech study done in July 2020, measured the number and concentration of air particles in an aircraft and compared those figures to other common indoor spaces. The end result was that the air inside the airplane cabin is many times cleaner than other indoor spaces including restaurants, stores and offices.
Another study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that because of the cleaning and safety procedures put in place by airlines that air travel poses less risk of COVID-19 infection than other common activities such as grocery shopping or eating out at restaurants.
Starting in January 2021, Delta is deploying a team of Clean Ambassadors that will be made up of about 100 employees in about 55 U.S. airports. These individuals will oversee the cleaning procedures taking place at these airports and ensure that Delta‘s high cleanliness standards are being upheld on a daily basis.
Also in January 2021, the carrier announced that it had been awarded the hospital-grade “Diamond” rating from Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) and Simplifying. This is the highest-level certification for airline cleanliness and passenger safety determined by the two organizations.
Masks and PPE:
Masks have been made a requirement for all employees and customers (except children under 2 years of age and individuals with certain medical conditions) throughout the airport, Sky Clubs, at the gate, jet bridges and onboard the plane as part of Delta Airlines COVID strategy. This policy went into effect on May 4 and it requires the mask or face covering over the mouth and nose. Masks and gloves are being provided to employees, specifically those that are in close contact with passengers. Masks are available for use by sick travelers and their caretakers.
Delta is strictly enforcing all passengers to wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth. For travelers that claim an exemption, a new procedure called “Clearance to Fly” will need to be completed prior to take off. This new procedure can take up to an hour to complete and it is to ensure that the passenger claiming a medical exemption is actually healthy enough to use air travel. This procedure is required for each trip and if a traveler is caught falsifying a medical exemption, they can be banned from Delta Airlines until the mask requirements are no longer in place.
According to multiple Harvard studies by the School of Public Health, universal masking of travelers is the number one deterrent to transmission in air travel but when it is paired with other measures put in place, such as: HEPA filtration, frequent cleaning of airplane cabins and high-touch points, electrostatic spraying, etc. the transmission risk during air travel drops to below 1%.
The airline revealed in February 2021 that at that time it had already barred more than 950 people from future Delta travel for failure to comply with the masking requirement in the airport and onboard aircraft.
Also starting in February 2021, it became federal law that each passenger must wear a mask, to cover the nose and mouth, while inside the airport and while on an airplane. A few exemptions do exist, such as: removing it temporarily for identification purposes, to eat or drink, and to take medications.
As part of Delta Airlines COVID strategy, the airline applied to the CARES Act Payroll Support Program administered by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. This program allows airlines to apply for aid to cover personnel payroll expenses, up to 76% of total payroll expenses between April and September 2019. As part of this program, Delta will receive a total of $5.4 billion in payroll support, with $1.6 billion of that being a low interest loan with a 10 year unsecured promissory note. In exchange, the Treasury Department will be provided 6.5 million warrants for common stock shares at a price of $24.39 per share. This program also puts limitations on executive pay until March 2022.
The PSP program through the CARES Act received an extension in December 2020 and to start 2021, Delta received its aid in January. This extension does expire on March 31, 2021 but the carrier can recall furloughed employees as part of the program. The airline received a total of $2.8 billion in total support with $828 million in the form of a low interest loan. In exchange the company had to give the Treasury Department 82.8 million warrants for common stock at a price of $39.73 per warrant.
- Blankets provided onboard the plane are cleaned and folded after each flight by an industrial-strength machine. After which they are wrapped in plastic until provided to customers.
- Delta has promised to block the middle seats (in 3×3 configuration planes) and the aisle seat (in 2×2 configuration aircraft). This policy will continue through April 30, 2021.
- Planes will be boarded back to front to prevent passengers from passing by each other on the way to their seats, with each each boarding group consisting of 10 customers at a time to reduce contact with other passengers.
- For travelers that started a Status Match Challenge, the airline has agreed to let those customers start another challenge whenever they are ready to start flying again, if the requirement were not met the first time. Temporary complimentary status will stay valid for the remainder of the promotion/challenge period.
- The company has introduced contactless/tap-to-pay features for onboard purchases to reduce the contact between passengers and employees. Emailed receipts are also offered with this new system.
Conclusion of Delta Airlines COVID Strategy:
Delta Airlines plan to adapt to the Coronavirus pandemic does seem to be on par with some of the other airlines that we have evaluated. To me where they outshine some of the others are in their increased credit card earning rates, cleaning protocols (specifically utilizing the electrostatic sprayer after each flight and at TSA checkpoints), and blocking certain seats and having seating caps through September. I feel like they fell short on enabling travelers to earn elite status, unlike some other airlines they did not reduce requirements. However, they have said that MQMs can be rolled over and be used to earn status for 2022. Overall, I think that Delta Airlines COVID response is a positive for travelers.