Delta Eats Crow, Partially Restores Interline Agreement With American Airlines

Two years ago Delta and American eliminated their interline agreement the most basic level of airline cooperation. That’s the agreement necessary to allow flights on the two airlines to exist on the same time, and that’s necessary for one airline to put its distressed passengers on the other carrier — without literally walking over with a credit card to buy a passenger a ticket.

At the time Delta explained that their operation was so good they didn’t need to put passengers on American and American should have to pay a premium to put passengers on Delta. When Delta refused to do an industry standard deal, United reportedly paid the premium Delta was looking for but American did not. Of course Delta was simply walking away from free money because the only seats at issue are unsold seats at the airport.

At the time I wrote,

I wonder how those Delta passengers who did need to get put onto American when something went wrong with a Delta flight will feel knowing Delta didn’t think they mattered enough, because there aren’t as many of them on Delta as there are on American.

Since then Delta has had a number of highly publicized operational meltdowns, although their reliability has remained marginally better than peers. Their IT systems shut down in August 2016 when they falsely blamed Georgia Power for the issue. Their IT melted down again in January 2017. Then a combination of weather and IT systems unable to function properly obliterated their system in April. Atlanta airport shut down due to power failure last month. And then there were disasters at New York JFK, while Delta claimed only weather could ever cause them to cancel flights again.

Each time Delta’s operation melted down there was criticism over their inability – of their own doing – to put passengers on American Airlines flights. They would emphasize in response that only a few passengers could have been re-accommodated, as though those passengers aren’t people with lives who matter.

Now Delta has worked to bring back its interline agreement with American. According to American Airlines,

American and Delta have agreed to terms on a new interline agreement, which takes effect Jan. 24 and will give the airlines the option of rebooking customers onto each other’s flights in the event of unexpected flight disruptions. While this gives our team members another tool to re-accommodate customers, our priority will always be to keep customers on American or our alliance and joint business partners.

Delta though underscores that this is just a re-accommodation agreement and doesn’t support true interlining allowing fares to be combined in a single ticket.

Here’s American’s new policy for re-accommodating passengers on Delta,

I don’t yet know the exact terms of the new agreement, but there was no reason at all for American to accede to Delta’s earlier demands. Two sources tell me that the move was initiated by Delta, recognizing the mistake they made in being unwilling to put their own customers on American flights when things go bad. They’re walking back of the hubris that causes their operational challenges to be met with schadenfreude.

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, 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. Bet United’s pissed if they’re paying a premium over AA. I wonder if they had a clause about not paying more for the agreement than a competitor?

  2. Thanks Delta Airlines for just now recognizing that passengers lives matter during your irregular operations.

  3. It wasn’t a mistake on Delta’s part. Delta had *TRIED* to rebooking passengers on AA flights, and passengers were showing up at AA gates only to be denied boarding. Delta thinks AA is taking care of you, and AA didn’t do it. They cancelled the interline agreement because AA wasn’t living up to their end of the bargain. I’ve had this happen more than once to myself and people I know.

    Would you rather have a ticket you can’t use because AA won’t let you on a plane & Delta thinks you’re being taken care of, or would you rather Delta still be aware that you need help?

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