I Want to Be Happy That Delta’s CEO is Retiring. Here’s Why it Makes Things Worse.

Scott Mayerowitz reports that Delta CEO Richard Anderson will retire in May, to be replaced by airline President Ed Bastian.

Anderson was CEO of Northwest. As CEO of Delta he acquired Northwest. The airline made the merger successful. They made their operation successful. And through it all they always looked out for number one, themselves.

    Delta’s Richard Anderson

Given that Delta has in my view:

  1. run an excellent operational airline
  2. while treating customers and partners with disdain

You might think I’d be happy to see the CEO leave.

However it also means that the airline’s chief revenue officer Glen Hauenstein, probably most directly responsible for the demise of SkyMiles, becomes airline president. Remember that they:

They’re elevating the man who effectively declared the end of upgrades. No frequent flyer can be excited by that.

And the legacy of Richard Anderson is… mixed. He led his airline to profitability and to the status of most-admired among his US peers.

However Anderson blamed the big Gulf airlines for 9/11 (when Delta partners with Saudia, whose government was at least complicit in the attacks). He did this because he wanted to make lower airfares illegal. The 9/11 comment should go on his tombstone, like the late Marion Barry’s line about the woman with whom he was videotaped smoking crack.

Loyalty used to matter to Delta. What they’ve come to now, though, is a character issue as much as a business or rewards decision. You know there’s a problem when the airline won’t claim to be honest and its partners won’t claim the points are retaining their value. And so I’m not sad to see their CEO leave at age 61.

Anderson claimed offloading his airline’s pensions on the federal government wasn’t a subsidy. They may not cancel many flights anymore, but he shouldn’t be entirely proud of his tenure either. foisting one of the largest obligations ever on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

He’ll be a controversial figure for a long time in the industry. But he’ll have a lifetime of free flights to take him to meetings of Conquistadores del Cielo. It will be interesting to see what he does next, since he retires at age 61. Regardless, the Anderson era is far from over at Delta.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I am so glad I’ve maintained my 1K status, with the ability to grant same to my spouse. I will finally be forced to drop some status soon because my body demands I stop flying so much. Seems pretty likely that DL is on the chopping block. I may cry when that day comes because I always liked Delta the best and they gave me my first top status. Oh well, all good things must end…. 🙁

  2. I was hoping Anderson’s departure would lead to better changes to Delta’s loyalty program. Oh well.

  3. I know you don’t think so Gay, but Richard AND HIS TEAM have done an amazing job, so his departure will be Ed’s situation to capitalize upon or screw up. It is not all doom and gloom as you make it out to be, and hopefully DL will continue to do well. The frequent flyer program does not make an airline, and Delta has proven that.

  4. Wishing Richard a happy retirement. Now he can join with all the other retirees, like the Delta passengers who since retired from using Delta because of all its shenanigans.

  5. Gary,

    Quite simply they have decided to redirect spending away from loyalty and toward operations. And they have used some of their market power and knowledge of customer inelasticity to stick it to the consumer (who has nowhere else to go).

    Business-wise, they have been the most successful airline. As a travel hacker I have found no possible benefit from Delta which is why I have not flown with them in the last 4 years (in any meaningful capacity) and at the same time have had no opportunity to take advantage of their miles, saving them a lot of money. I have probably sucked AA and United dry, but I find it impossible to do the same with Delta. And that is why Delta succeeds, because mile leeches like me have no chance with them.

  6. @Chase I think I make clear in the post that they have run a terrific airline operation the past few years. And they’ve done whatever is in their own short-term best interest along the way, in my view whether that’s sticking it to customers, lying to customers, or stealing from customers and everyone else via government. US airlines are subsidized cronysits, and Delta has been the worst of that lot IMHO.

  7. Anderson is a heck of a businessman. Unfortunately for us, he figured out that frequent flyers were (to use the United term) “over-entitled,” and that Delta could make more money by taking away frequent flyer perks. I can’t really hold that against him. It is, after all, only business.

    And I agree with you that his departure is unlikely to make things better for the people who read this blog.

  8. Delta doesn’t matter. I burned all my SkyPesos and have no interest anymore. I may occasionally fly if the price and schedule are right, but I’ve retired from caring about what that airline does.

  9. He’s getting out on top, relatively speaking, before the music stops playing for DL and more people start looking to give someone the tar-and-feather treatment for DL dropping on some of the key measures.

  10. Can you provide a link or real evidence that the Saudi government was complicit in the 9/11 attack?

  11. Airlines realized they’d made a rod for their backs the moment they introduced loyalty schemes that allowed upgrades as soon as they had introduced them. They’ve all been trying to kill the system ever since.
    Having been traveling for 45 years, I’d much rather an airline was a good business – on time, safe, good to fly on and well run – than be constantly pandering to me with bribes.
    Delta has done a superb job over the past few years – which you acknowledge – but ridding themselves and the rest of the industry of the shackles of an outdated ‘loyalty’ or ‘bribery’ program and replacing it with a good airline is a good move.

  12. Delta, under Anderson, still values loyalty; however they shifted the loyalty from valued customers to the valued dollar.

    I still miss the pre-merger, pre-Anderson Delta that cared about my million plus miles of travel with them.

  13. I value delta probably even less than they value me. Their skymiles have the same worth as a dissipating fart, and I only fly their airline if: 1) they are literally the only option to get to where I’m going, or 2) they are significantly cheaper than the next best option.

    Apart from that, I don’t care about this airline.

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