7000 Delta Employees Are Protesting Being Locked Out Of Sky Clubs

Since Friday, February 3 Delta Air Lines employees are no longer permitted to use Sky Clubs when traveling as nonrevs – even if they purchased a club membership or have the American Express co-brand Reserve card that comes with access.

Now there’s a petition with over 7,000 signatures asking Delta to restore access. It’s an open letter to airline CEO Ed Bastian, ‘let my co-workers in!’

Delta is offering employees and retirees with paid Sky Club memberships pro-rated refunds. Employees and retirees with Delta Reserve cards which offer Sky Club access are also entitled to pro-rated refunds of their annual fee if they fully cancel their cards.

However family members who nonrev (pass riders) can not get refunds for their annual fee or paid membership, even though they can no longer use it. And even though Delta ran a campaign with employees last year to sign them up for the premium Delta card, promoting the benefits of lounge access, as part of meeting their new cardmember goals with American Express.

It’s a tough message that customers are more important than employees for an airline that promotes themselves as a family, and that is fending off a unionization drive among flight attendants. Even employees who heeded Delta’s call and volunteered as cleaners for the Sky Clubs are no longer welcome.

Delta has also raised the price of Sky Club memberships and restricted joining to elite members, banned club members from using facilities while traveling on basic economy fares, and taken away access from Gold elite members and above flying economy on international trips. And that comes after limiting access to within 3 hours of start of a trip.

The airline’s Sky Clubs are crowded, and more crowded than competitor products. So far Delta doesn’t have separate business class lounges, which would take pressure off of their Sky Clubs, the way that United and American offer. More people have access to these lounges, by virtue of Delta’s deal with American Express providing entry to anyone with a Platinum card. And the lounges are more of a draw, offering more and better food than Admirals Clubs and United Clubs.

Delta isn’t going to address the root cause of crowding – their Amex deal – because American Express is their biggest customer. Indeed, they even charge customers without a co-brand Amex more for award travel as a penalty for not taking the card. So they’re lefft compensating with every lever they have, including poising relations with employees and adding one more frustration that risks unionization.

Countering this, however, is a 5.5% pay increase for ground employees and flight attendants – going into effect on April Fools’ Day. This follows an announcement on profit sharing and pay for flight attendants during boarding, which competitors don’t offer.

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. Simply the numbers of Delta employees protesting (or signing this petition) is proof enough of the impact they had on the overcrowding issue. Of course, not taking anything away from the AmEx push as the root cause.

  2. The Delta employees don’t have a leg to stand on if they are issued prorated refunds. Lounges are at capacity and space should be for passengers and not employees. Non revs continuously disrupt the peace and tranquility of flights and cause gate agents to try manipulate seating to get their buddies in business class. The concept of Non Rev is an affront to good business. If they are issued refunds for card fees, they really reveal themselves to be worthless employees as their biggest care and consideration seems to be worrying about lounge access as non revs. Airlines would be better off eliminating non revs in any employment contract going forward after expiration and offer a set amount of free flights based on seniority and job.

  3. @ Gary — At least they were offered pro-rated refunds. Paying non-employee customers were just simply ripped off several years ago when Delta dded the “must be flying Delta” requirement.

  4. If you were running a business, and you were forced to choose which customers to give SkyClub access to, who would you choose

    1) People that pay annual fees (regardless of whether it is attached to a credit card) to access the product
    2) Employees, customers that get access for free, etc

    Amex cardholders (not the bank – the end cardholders) are choosing to hold these cards for a reason…

  5. If I was a DL employee with a club membership I would just start buying fully refundable revenue tickets and then cancel them once inside the lounge. After all, travel plans change all the time…

  6. Employees don’t get access for free; they pay for it.

    As an employee for a different airline I will say that being able to use the flub for business and leisure is a definite perk of the job. I travel almost weekly for company business (not a crew member) the club serves must purpose just as much as anyone else traveling with that type of schedule.

  7. wow.
    I have commented to this topic before (not the protest or petition) but
    1. Delta cut a whole lot of other groups before they got to employees
    2. If there is any combination of revenue spend and card spend, employees will never score on a hierarchy of all types of users.
    3. Delta could not have done what it did to cut off groups of paying customers without cutting off employees.
    4. The use of Sky Clubs by employees was undoubtedly heavily skewed to commuting crew members. If Delta can’t build enough Sky Clubs to accommodate crew members, they need to invest in nicer crew lounges.
    5. The amount of people in Sky Clubs hasn’t changed for better or worse by any of the groups that have been “kicked out” so I don’t think they have really cut off the real reasons for crowding which is the success of the Amex relationshpi

    It is nice when people ask for me to show up

  8. There is some misinformation to clear up here.

    While the employees do travel nonrev, they had paid memberships which were unilaterally canceled and Gary said *only* employees got refunds, not their family members who also *paid for* memberships or credit card annual fees. Evidently family members are sol regarding refunds.

    I do not understand the dissing of nonrevs and their flight benefits either. Nonrevs do not bump paying pax out of seats in business or economy, at least not the nonrevs you interact with at the airport. That misinformation just needs to stop.

    The only ‘nonrevs’ who bump out revenue pax are the C-suite. Yep! If anyone has ever gotten a call saying your J class seat is no longer available could have been bumped by a CEO or VP. So those of you who really feel it necessary to vent about this should send emails to the ceo’s. High-level managers and execs can bump you out of your *paid* seat! Not your pilots or FA’s (unless they are being repositioned to work a flight), and not your gate agents or baggage handlers. Time for this fallacy to end.

    As far as nonrev behavior on flights, the FA’s know the names of the nonrevs and bad behavior usually results in a temporary flight benefit suspension, and a second offense could make it permanent if the employee is not terminated.

    It would not take Delta, or UA or AA either, long to figure out that nonrevs were buying and canceling tickets, and that would probably end up in termination for the employees. Not worth it for lounge access imo.

    And good luck getting anywhere with DL on this. Their pimp Amex already excludes all nonrevs from the Amex branded lounges by requiring a seat assignment, yet they send us prequals and expect us to pay full price.

    If anything is screwed up in this whole s show it’s that amex expects nonrevs to pay them $695 a year and never be able to go into lounges. They can take their card and lounges and shove ’em. Priority Pass wants my paid business and does not penalize me for where I work.

    Amex can go abcdef themselves.

  9. Omg, how could anyone think the lounge is possibly that good that they’d wait on that line. Nuts.

  10. FYI Delta employees can’t access the club in uniform. Most FAs don’t have time to go to a club in street clothes then run to the bathroom (outside the club) to change into their uniform to fly. Most non-revs using the club are flying on personal travel. And the poster who talks about non-revs manipulating the gate agent doesn’t know what they’re talking about. I’ve seen non-revs kicked to the back of the plane for trying to finagle a better seat.

  11. I’m affected by this, and I’d be happy if there is a compromise: ban nonrevs WHEN THE CLUB IS AT OR NEAR CAPACITY. Because despite all the stories about lines to get in, that’s not the case at most locations and most times.

  12. Another example of lack of functioning management. What did airlines THINK was going to happen when they started all these CC perks? Now they cry “We didn’t know this would happen! OK, but you should have revamped the system when you saw what was happening.” INah, they just run around in circles wringing their hands until they are forced to make changes. It’s just stupid they they just kept on letting more and more people use their perks until there are lines for SkyClubs and overcrowding in many airport lounges.

  13. @A customer

    The families of employees can absolutely use the lounges if they are paid ticket holders.

    According to policy gate agents aren’t supposed to bump paying passengers, ticketed award passengers, or go against the upgrade policy for those with status. Unfortunately, agents at times still try to circumvent the rules. Didn’t we just read about a guy who was a paid $7500 Delta One ticket holder who was told he had to go to economy because his video screen was non functional only to push back and find out that there was no screen issue upon boarding. Do you really think gate agents aren’t playing games? What about people who show up within the boarding window and find out they lost their seats. Non revs are finessed into them.

  14. This all goes away if congress kills off the credit card rewards programs. with the Marshall Durbin Interchange Bill.

  15. How sad that unhappy people with unhappy lives lie about hard-working airline employees without any direct knowledge. And that will be my only reply. No more food for you.

  16. They are complaining, yet still get access on paid travel in Business Class just like anyone else. The petition should be “Give Platinum & Diamond medallions travelling in int’l Main Cabin lounge access back”. Right now Airfrance Gold members get into the SC when flying Economy but Delta Diamonds don’t.

  17. A 5.5% raise for flight attendants and ground crews doesn’t keep up with inflation. A sign of Delta’s contempt for its own employees now too?

    And Delta gutting the lounge access benefit for its own Gold, Platinum and Diamond frequent flyers in economy class is yet another sign of Delta’s long-standing contempt for its loyalty program members …. as if the ridiculously high mileage ticket pricing it started with didn’t say it all already.

  18. @GUWonder – maybe you’re forgetting that the raise comes on top of a raise last year too? And you call it contempt for flight attendants but when was the last time American Airlines flight attendants got a raise….

  19. Nonrevs should never have had access to begin with. Most international carriers have always had this rule in place.

    It’s funny to me that bloggers have universally criticized this move. I guess they don’t want to be spit on the next time they board a Delta flight.

  20. @A Customer: That’s just not true. On international flights, paying passengers on the upgrade list for Delta One using a global upgrade certificate get passed over for a nonrev. And I’ve seen plenty of uniformed crew in first-class domestically when there were customers on the upgrade list for those seats.

  21. @FDD

    You did not read all of my post. If you see a several uniformed crew in premium cabins they are most likely being repositioned to work another flight. Many airlines have this caveat in their union contracts. That is why I said nonrevs. Repositioned crew are not nonrevs they are called deadheaders on company business.

    Different airlines may process international upgrades differently, but most carriers use a tiered system and you might need multiple certificates to go from Y through W all the way up to J.

    I frequently see passengers who show up thinking their certificates get them upgraded from Y to J only to find out it is only good for a one-cabin upgrade.

    Any revenue or non-rev passenger who thinks the list is not processed properly, to report it. The airlines take this very seriously and it will be handled.

    There have been instances of wrongdoing publicized, but how many do you hear of out of the million flights per year? Only one example was listed above and if there was misbehavior the employee was probably fired, especially if they work for Delta.

    Interesting that nobody seemed bothered that airline execs can bump pax out of *paid confirmed seats* not just keep them from getting upgraded. smh

  22. This is so, way overblown. DL employees are entitled to be disappointed, but in its former (membership-based Crown Room Club) incarnation, airline and airport employees were prohibited from joining altogether. There is disappointment all around in the current attempts to solve the crowding–employees and customers have to share the pain. As I understand it, this also only affects non-rev travel, and not positive space, employee discounted travel.

    Ultimately, regardless of the “contract”, Amex and Delta are in partnership and they are both well served by collaborating to solve the crowding problem. I continue to be convinced Amex will pull some levers that increase fees and/or devalue the SkyClub benefit way before the sacred contract is up for renewal. This is not an adversarial relationship (far from it).

  23. When a non revenue passenger “employee” comes in the lounge they have still paid the 545 and soon 695 dollars for excess so what’s the big deal. If Delta wanted to do something about the over crowding in the clubs, stop letting guess bring in a whole group of 5 to 6 people. I see this all the time and nothing is done about that , ever! It can’t really be that many employees willing to pay almost 700 dollars to visit the club, so if they are willing to do it there should be no problem.

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