Never Believe an Airline When Its Lips Move

Airlines are like politicians. If the claims they make are non-binding (and very few are binding, even more so in a post-Ginsberg world), and they want something — a merger, or just customers to swallow a change without defecting and pulling business — there’s little incentive to keep their word.

This is strange in a way. We expect that airline customers are repeat customers, especially an airline’s most valuable customers. So in this iterative game it would make sense to maintain trust.

But consumers overall buy on price, have a low opinion of airlines generously, and repeat customers behave like Charlie Brown to the airlines’ Lucy who keep putting the football in front of us, in a triumph of hope over experience.

The latest example comes from Delta, which committed in its merger with Northwest Airlines that it would keep Northwest’s Memphis hub. The merger was even supposed to bring more international flying to Memphis.

Delta has now announced that it is cutting the number of destinations it will serve from Memphis all the way down to 13. And three of those are seasonal.

Memphis was once a busy hub for Delta, which inherited the base via its 2008 merger with Northwest. Delta flew as many as 240 flights per day out of Memphis in June 2009, including a flight to Amsterdam. But the company has been ratcheting that number down ever since, culminating in a decision to “de-hub” Memphis in 2013.

Conditions change, and Delta would certainly continue flying out of Memphis if they found it profitable to do so. I don’t blame them for taking this decision.

But it was entirely predictable when Delta and Northwest merged. The striking thing is that they pretended otherwise, and some people believed them.

United eliminated its Cleveland hub this year despite merger promises it would not do so. Although they maintain their relationship with the Cleveland Browns…

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Some locals still despise Carl Icahn who took over TWA and proceed to treat it as a cash cow. Afterward, it did help that SWA took over gates at St. Louis Lambert Airport. Now isn’t the Memphis airport the hub for Fedex?

  2. @kas

    FedEx has its original hub in MEM. They also have a secondary hub in IND and smaller hubs in EWR and OAK. Delta is FedEx’s contract carrier so this is a big blow to them. But they were forewarned about it….But Delta did the same thing to CVG so this should have been expected by everyone.

  3. Re. repeat customers – not a consideration anymore: Now 4 airlines control 85% of the market, loyality is low priority.

    Airlines can abuse customers with impunity; via sardine seating, gutting FF programs, more junk fees.. doesn’t matter, you got no choice.

  4. Our airport here in MEM is like a ghost town. It’s really sad.

    I don’t get Delta adding the SLC non-stop back during the summer. It’s a prime ski destination and might have been an option for me but I’m flying AA instead.

    Frontier has come in with service to Dallas and Denver but no Saturday service which doesn’t help those of us leisure travelers who want to make the most of a vacation week.

  5. @Chris – PHX seems the most in danger. CLT will be downgraded to a domestic connecting hub (I think we see less international service). PHL may survive intact but there’s a real tension with operating hubs at both PHL and JFK. We’re seeing ORD go more regional jet and away from mainline.

  6. I keep hearing about CLT being stripped of its international service… does that mean new service to international gateways (MIA, PHL, DFW or JFK) from places like CAE?

  7. @Lea

    Today, Frontier Airlines is offering $29 flights from Bloomington/Normal (IL) airport to Orlando (FL). Cheapest return flight is $72 and yes, no Saturday flights on this route at either airport. IMHO, flying from a regional airport is puzzling. While one take an Amtrak train from either Chicago or St. Louis, neither Megabus or Greyhound seem to serve Bloomington/Normal.

  8. @kas

    I live 40 miles from BMI. Frontier announced today they are leaving this airport in April 2015. So, this is short lived. Frontier picked up BMI after Air Tran was pulled out by Southwest. Delta switched from CRJ to 717, this past year. So, Delta has started to poach traffic away from LCCs.

  9. Visited Memphis a week and half ago. That airport is now really depressing. I used to fly through there on Northwest and, while a bit older, it was an enjoyable stop. Some good Elvis/Sun Studio restaurants/stores, etc. Now, unless you’re flying Delta I don’t know if they even have Arrivals/Departure boards. United is particularly stone-aged.

    Ghost towns are always a bit sad and lonely feeling.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *