As the airline industry roared over the last decade, Delta set itself apart from its U.S. competitors. The Atlanta-based airline doubled down on seatback screens as other airlines ripped them out, gave passengers more space as competitors crammed extra rows of seating on its planes, and earned a reputation for friendlier service onboard.
The coronavirus pandemic has crippled Delta and all other airlines, yet it has still shined – this time, leading with consumer-friendly moves that American, United, and others have copied.
As other airlines focused on shoring up ticket sales, Delta was the first major U.S. carrier to allow free change or cancellation for previously booked travel – not just new reservations. You can now change or cancel (for a voucher) all Delta domestic flights scheduled through April, and all international flights through May. Read more on Delta's change and cancellation policies during coronavirus.
That broad policy extends even to award tickets booked with SkyMiles, allowing flyers to cancel reservations and get their miles back without paying the standard $150 redeposit fee. Only Alaska Airlines and Southwest have done the same. In many cases, both American and United are still charging fees.
While travelers struggle to get through jammed phone lines, Delta made its most consumer-friendly move: Automatically issuing eCredits to any traveler who missed or skipped a flight through April. American Airlines quickly copied that policy.
The list goes on. If you change flights (but not your destination), Delta won't charge you the fare difference if you reschedule your domestic flight before May or an international journey before June. Like Southwest, Delta has also capped fares for domestic travel through March – helping travelers get home in a hurry. If you've got a companion certificate set to expire through June, Delta automatically extended it to the end of 2020.
To be clear, Delta's response has not been perfect. The airline has struggled to properly process changes or cancellations online, erroneously displaying a $200-plus change fee.
Like all airlines, call wait times have been horrendous. Once-speedy responses via Twitter direct messages now often take hours – if not days. While unused companion certificates have been extended, we've heard from many travelers trying to change or cancel a companion flight who lost that certificate.
But in many measures, Delta has set the bar for how airlines can respond to give travelers more leeway at a time when no one should be traveling.
This is a difficult time for travelers and an absolute crisis for airlines. Every airline can improve, and Delta is no exception. But it has continually outpaced its peers in its response to coronavirus.