Like Airport FEMA: Delta Sets Up Rations For Desperate Flyers Waiting To Get Into A Sky Club

The problem of long lines stretching through the terminal just to get into a crowded Delta Sky Club are well-documented. Delta has taken steps to address this, like limiting how long passengers can stay in a club and setting up a two-tiered entry system to shuttle in top elites and first class flyers. And starting next year most people won’t be able to buy a membership, nor access the lounge based on status alone. The only reasonable way in will be a qualifying American Express card.

While the worst lines are most often reported at New York JFK terminal 4, things are bad across the system. Reports had been that at JFK Delta was even feeding passengers while they waited in long lines to get into the club.

Now the need for sustenance has grown beyond JFK. According to the Wall Street Journal‘s Dawn Gilbertson, Delta has cordoned off an area to provide food to beleaguered travelers as they stand in interminable lines waiting their turn to enter.

For the airline’s passengers, it goes something like this. With the coming of restored travel, many eyes turned hopefully or desperately towards Delta’s Sky Clubs. Not everybody could get in directly, and so a turtuous, roundabout refugee trail sprang up….

And for those who cannot get a qualifying American Express card, life somewhat resembles that the Bulgarian couple in Casablanca desperately seeking a visa.

Crowding has been worse at Delta’s clubs than other airlines, because of Amex Platinum cardmembers having access (not merely their own premium cobrand cardmembers), because they have a product people are willing to stand in line for, and because they do not yet have a separate business class lounge product to segregate those passengers like American and United do.

Delta has taken steps that may reduce crowding pressures, which is absolutely necessary. But I believe they go to far – excluding elite members paying as much as $1495 for a ‘membership’ on days they’re traveling on a basic economy ticket (American Express cardmembers even without elite status remain eligible on basic economy fares). In the meantime, Delta passengers with lounge memberships wait in airports. And wait. And wait. And wait.

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. Fly Delta, wait in line. Even as a premium passenger, get treated like sh**.
    Thank Ed Bastion. It wasn’t like this before he turned up

  2. Need to raise the price of the plat card to 1200-1500 and do away with cheap AU cards this will be the only way to turn people away from the plat and start to lower the crowding

  3. Platinum million miler with Lifetime SkyClub membership. Back of the line sucker! Yep that’s how I feel.

  4. at least you didn’t include the same worn out picture of the line for the JFK T4 club but where exactly are the pictures of these interminable lines at other clubs?
    You also, Gary, failed to note the very tweet which you cited in reply to Dawn GIlbertson which specifically said the line moved quickly and there was an abundance of seats inside the lounge when the customer arrived inside.
    Perhaps the problem isn’t crowding but the arrival of many people all at one time and the speed with which customers can manage to check in.

  5. Just walked in the big DTW club at A43. Its busy….but no line. But, it IS busy. Yet, none of my “we love to travel” neighbors have lounge access with any airline. So where are all these people coming from…yup…its the amex plat. Gotta be.

  6. Let’s remember why we go to these clubs. Reason one is food. Sure it’s not a gourmet meal but it saves me from having to pay at least $15 in the terminal. Reason two is Wi-Fi. It’s much faster in the club plus I don’t have to watch ads before connecting. There used to be a third reason which was a respite from the noise of the terminal but lately clubs are just as if not more crowded and noisy, whether or not there is a line at the front desk. Gary Leff needs to lose weight. So if I have a long layover and I need a meal or a fast connection to upload my PowerPoint slides then I’ll be standing in line to the club. Is it a luxury experience? Of course not. Is there still practical value? Yes. The cherry on top, the luxury feeling of exclusivity, is gone now. But there is still value to be hard especially if your club membership is either reimbursed by a corporation, or you are holding the Amex card for other reasons.

  7. ” Nobody goes to that restaurant anymore…it’s too crowded ”

    Lawrence “Yogi” Berra

  8. @Tim Dunn – the line at JFK T4 in September moved quickly, so what? You can try to minimize the issue all you want but Delta wouldn’t be banning so many elite customers from their lounges if THEY didn’t think this was a serious problem which wouldn’t abate on its own.

  9. I’m not debating that there is enough reason to reduce crowding – I have seen crowding. I have not seen lines anywhere what you have pictured at JFK T4 in any other location. Where I have seen lines it has been a half dozen or so people and then almost always at ATL B.
    And for someone that pushes credit cards for a living, it is really quite hard to understand how you don’t grasp that Delta made the decision to favor its premium card customers over coach and low level elites in less valuable classes of service. Delta’s decision is all about looking at the total value of a customer.

  10. I use the JFK T4 SkyClub very often and have never waited more than 5 minutes to get in even at peak evening times. Just went through a few days ago and there was NO line at 530pm…
    One of the other issues unique to the JFK T4 SkyClub is that the landing area where passengers “check in” to the Club is not a big space but is right off the escalator. So often, they try to space apart passenger entry so as not to crowd the area (which can be dangerous if passengers are not moving through fast enough as more passengers come off the escalator).

  11. Tim Dunn, your statement “Delta’s decision is all about looking at the total value of a customer” is absurd. Delta is prioritizing the value of tickets over the value of customers. Diamond Medallions are Delta’s highest total value customers (short of 360) and these latest moves have absolutely given them the short straw – no more access on international flights (unless you’ve spent enough on your ticket) + a choice between using all three choice benefits for an executive membership (formerly two…or one if you were buying an individual membership) or (like any other Medallion) pony up in cash / SkyMiles for a membership that gives you worse access than Amex cardholders.

  12. Neil,
    if one of those elites buy a high enough class of service, they get access to the Sky Club.
    What Delta is saying is that a high status and a ticket in a class of service that there are plenty of people lining up to buy is not enough value to provide Sky Club access.
    Delta clearly makes far more money per customer based on credit card access and that is how they are shifting their focus.
    And I still wonder how many people are really affected by all of these changes. Delta certainly knows but how many “high elites” don’t have access through an Amex card or a paid Sky Club membership?
    And what has not been mentioned in all of this is the possibility that Detla is including Sky Club access w/ some of its major corporate account negotiations.

    There are growing rumors that Delta is on the verge of announcing a large number of new routes for next summer; They have about 15 new A330-900s and new and used A350-900s coming into the fleet next year so they have a large amount of international capacity coming. There are also growing rumors that they are reconfiguring their widebody aircraft to carry more premium passengers.
    If both of those things happen, they could be making the moves they are because they expect to be carrying a lot more premium international passengers and that will affect the use of their Sky Clubs.

  13. I don’t understand how the Sky Club at JFK T4 would be so full of Amex Platinum Card holders. Unless it’s very early or late in the day, wouldn’t they go to the better Centurion Lounge if it’s open?

  14. The upside to this is that Americans can have Delta all to them self.
    No, right minded Elite plus frequent flyer in Business First from abroad, is going to accept being stranded in a line behind a credit card holder, on the annual shopping trip to NY in eco.
    I hope that other Skyteam airlines are going to make hotdog stands outside their respective lounges for Delta elites.
    I think a bit of karma would be in its place.

  15. Delta should start charging for all alcoholic beverages. No “free” selections whatsoever.
    For many with an Amex platinum, it’s a game to get a free drink.

  16. I just not have seen an issue at JFK, been there about 5 times this year and never had an issue. Busy, yes but manageable.

  17. Gary,
    are yo going to do a take on “PointsGuy Awards”, and delta winning the best FFP?

  18. Need to add 50 IQ points to any moron that would pay to stand in a long line to get into a crowded noisy Delta club.

  19. You just honestly have to Love how Timmy still says there isn’t a line problem based on a stock photo when even Delta is out there trying to manage a known issue…
    Seriously, Tim, just go back to your hole and stay there.

    Delta makes a lot of money off crowding their lounges to the point of creating lines, something you love to brag about despite your lack of knowledge on Delta’s profitability or cost structure… A couple years ago, Delta was out there bragging about billions to their bottom line as a result of how they’re crowding their lounges now with amex customers. But, as soon as someone mentions “how” Delta is profitable on the revenue side, you go crazy and can’t believe they’d dare to mention that overcrowding is an issue when you give out too many memberships (among many things delta does on the revenue side including the benefit of incredibly monopolistic hubs which even they admit in their investor day)…
    Your knowledge about the interplay between purchased revenue vs points-revenue is shockingly lacking and plays into your overall ignorance when it comes to something as simple as lounge overcrowding and how Delta’s revenue performance is very much influenced by their ability to make skypesos worthless then put that into revenue performance — RASM (vs trasm).

    I have no issue about Delta selling as many lounge memberships as they can via their own credit card or AMEX. It’s the industry. But… no one should be criticized when they mention or critique the implications of what Delta is doing to artificially inflate their rasm numbers via the devaluation of skypesos and their own mileage program overall. It’s the needed counter from the customer view of how and what Delta is doing.

    Delta makes the choice to overcrowd their lounges and make their mileage program worthless. Let’s hope others don’t do the same but… history isn’t promising. Delta leads the way, as usual, on devaluation and overcrowding in the name of profitability then the delta fanboys like Timmy come out and talk about delta profitability absent any real knowledge of interplay of revenue and mileage programs.

    Perhaps Delta will have some real entrenched margin lead forever based on their continued devaluation of their mileage program and deals that they know overcrowd their lounges, but historically speaking, Delta has been in bankruptcy just like every other carrier and their short-term devaluation methods make Ed Bastian some money today and he’ll likely be gone, cashed out, and chugging Dom at one of his 10 houses by the time his choices impact Delta’s brand.

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