No Waivers, No Favors: Sky Club Member Denied Entry Into Empty Lounge Due To 3 Hour Rule

Delta now restricts Sky Club members from entering its lounges until 3 hours prior to the first flight on their itinerary. The stated objective is to limit crowding in clubs. As one Delta executive put it, deriding customers who pay for lounge access and stay too long, “we’re not WeWork.”

The problem, of course, isn’t the Sky Club members. It’s that Delta sells too much access, people are flying again, and the physical spaces they’ve leased can’t handle that much volume. Unlike other airlines (1) they offer more and better food in many clubs that customers do want to come for, and (2) anyone with an Amex Platinum card can access their lounges when flying the airline – it isn’t just limited to club members and those with the carrier’s premium co-brand.

Delta is scapegoating customers, and tinkering around the edges of the problem. The 3 hour rule isn’t coming close to helping.

The 3 hour rule is being applied literally rather than seriously. One reader reports on the Denver Sky Club.

  • It closes at 12:15 a.m.
  • During the week, in the late evenings, it’s fairly empty – Denver isn’t the sort of busy station you’d find at a Delta hub<

Delta has an Atlanta departure half an hour after the lounge closes. But customers cannot enter the largely empty lounge until 3 hours prior to that departure. Not only is the rule unnecessary to prevent crowding, but the rule squeezes how much time passengers on this flight can use the lounge, compared to other passengers, by half an hour.

Two decades ago under Chief Executive Leo Mullin, Delta explicitly had a policy of not helping customers. It was called ‘Simply Good Business’ and known as ‘no waivers, no favors’. One wonders if Mullin, in retirement, is spending his days managing Sky Clubs.

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. It’s actually worse than this. Not only does Delta have a Denver-Atlanta red-eye, but Delta also has a Denver-Detroit red-eye that departs at 12:55 a.m. That’s 40 minutes AFTER the club lounge’s published 12:15 a.m. closure time. So, passengers on that flight can’t enter the lounge until 9:55 p.m. That’s only 2 hours and 20 minutes of Sky Club access. And, by the way, there’s basically no bars/restaurants open in Denver’s A concourse (used by Delta) after 9:30 or 10 p.m.

  2. In the 1950s, Delta Airlines’ motto was “Hospitality and Service from the Heart.”

    In 2022, Delta Sky Club®’s dues-paying members are now refused entry into an empty lounge if arriving for their first flight more than three hours before departure. Accordingly, the new Delta Airlines passenger motto should be “Sucks to be you today.”

  3. I guess I don’t understand. People don’t have anything better to do than spend two and half hours in a Delta Lounge? It’s a nice place to visit on the way to a flight, not a night club.

  4. I’m with Scott. The novelty of airline clubs, save for a very few, kind of wore off a long time ago. If for some unimaginable reason I found myself flying on a horrible flight like a 12:45 AM departure, I’d be spending every possible minute at either: 1) home, 2) my company’s office, 3) a hotel which I would be expensing to whoever put me up to such an awful proposition, or 4) a nice restaurant.

    Personally, I like my rules to be interpreted literally, as it makes life a lot easier for the poor front-line workers who are often forced to be judge and jury (and face the wrath of angry DYKWIAs) on these things.

  5. Don’t pax have to board typically 30 minutes before the plane leaves or does the depart time include boarding?

  6. Welcome to Ed Bastion’s idea of how to treat his customers. It’s been going downhill since he became CEO, pushed me back to AA.

  7. @ Gary — Delta sucks now. Loving AA these days, especially while redeeming those miles purchased at 0.42 cpm and entering Admirals Clubs and Flagship Lounges using Finnair Plat status, without stupid restrictions.

  8. @ Scott — It really isnt so simple. I’m quite sure 99% people aren’t just coming to the lounge for hours to eat, drink and use the crappy wifi.

  9. And 3 hours isn’t 3 hours. When you factor in boarding time and potential long walks to a gate, it’s more like 2 hours of lounge time for many users

  10. Someone needs to come up with a Bonvoyed equivalent for Delta. The way they’ve been moving they sure need one.

  11. Much ado about nothing. Late night departure, no traffic, No lines = no reason to arrive at DEN more than 60 minutes before ETD. That leaves 30 min in lounge but maybe less depending on walk to gate as you generally board 30+ min before ETD.

    If you are hanging out at DEN for hours (sans connection) you need to get a life or take an earlier flight.

  12. Yesterday, the complaints were about AA. Today, they are about DL. Tomorrow, they will be about UA. Then BA and LH and so on. There will always be something to complain about and someone to do the complaining.

    What I don’t understand is how this subject relates to the conservative – liberal divide and border control policy.

  13. @Reno Joe – LOL, You said it. We need some irrelevant subject to divert to to rile everyone up instead of concentrating on the subject at hand. Reno Joe for mayor of Tulsa!

  14. Whats wrong with you Delta Flyers? Calm down! (to quote our elite Delta CS agent rep) this isn’t your home away from home.Just because you pay to earn your loyalty and buy club memberships doesn’t entitle you to move into our Ultra Luxury lounges with fine dining and take up residence.There is just too many of you elites out there .
    Go find a Priority Pass lounge and go crowd one of those.Your friendly Delta Family with service from the heart ;):)
    Warmest Regards

  15. All those sheeple lined up waiting to get in my clubs. Keeping buying those credit cards baby and lining my pockets with green. Excuse me now while I shift my focus from running the airline to corporate activitism and other woke initiatives. I have to save the world.

  16. I’ve never understood this, if I’m arriving at an airport with more than the minimum time necessary to get to the gate, I’ve planned very poorly! It’s far better to spend your time literally anywhere other than an airport. If you are worried about the delays at security these days, and instead breeze through unexpectedly, 3 hours is way more than enough time to cover you until your flight.
    Similarly, when I get off a plane, I’m not heading to the lounge, I’m going to my destination.
    The only time I have any interest in a lounge is for layovers, they’re amazing for that, and my understanding is that the 3 hour rule doesn’t apply there, at least I hope not because my last club layover was 6 hours!

  17. My god, how long do you guys spend in the lounge? I thought the first comment was a joke, but you guys are serious. I’ve never wanted to spend more than an hour in a lounge, and that’s with taking a shower. You guys are crazy hanging out in a lounge for 2+ hours.

  18. Solution it to spend time at the Westin bar until you have access to the SkyClub if you really want to spend all that time at DEN

    While the rule in this case is kind of arbitrary and silly, not sure why most passengers would need three hours in this lounge (there won’t be many connections)

    Also, why would anyone take these three/four hour red eyes from DEN to DTW or NYC?

  19. If you have a 4 p.m. late check-out a the hotel and grab a nice dinner, you’re probably still going to arrive at the airport by 7:30 or 8 p.m. Denver’s airport is a good 30 minutes from downtown with no traffic. It takes at least 45 minutes to return a rental car, check-in and drop bags, clear security and get to the Sky Club in the A concourse. So, that’s at least 75 minutes right there. I don’t think I’m going to risk hanging out at an off-airport restaurant in Denver past 8 p.m. for a 12:15 or 12:55 a.m. flight. Regardless of whether you agree with this or not, the 3-hour rule should be based on BOARDING TIME, not departure time.

  20. @Anthony: And sometimes the red-eye is the only option for those needing to work a full day somewhere.

  21. FNT – the great thing a today’s business travel environment is that people have more discretion about things like that. I’d sooner spend the night in DEN and take the 6 AM to JFK.

  22. Same situation for redeye from PHX to ATL. Departure around midnight, got to club at 2045 hours, nobody in club. Platinum with 2 million miles, had to wait outside.

  23. For those who can’t understand the why, I am on a red eye out of LA to a funeral. I had to come from San Diego because those flights were sold out. I had no choice but to get here early. Simply no way around it. It’s been a long stressful day. I’m exhausted and hungry. Just want to sit down, have a bite and chill out until I can board in 5 hours. They won’t let in. The lounge is empty. They told me to come back I. 3 hours. I’m not excited to hang out a lounge. I have to work around when I could get here from San Diego. I’m not goi g out to a restaurant in LA with my luggage. I just want to chill out before going to bury my family member. Not everyone travels for work or leisure. So if you can’t imagine why, it’s because you are only looking at it based on your personal experience.

  24. @ICA my understanding was that they didn’t enforce the 3 hour rule on layovers?
    If they are enforcing it for layovers that’s a problem because those are often more than 3 hours.
    Honestly though it’s starting to sound like Delta status is just useless. It doesn’t get you into a lounge, it’s highly unlikely to get you an upgrade, so what’s the point vs another airline’s program?

  25. After avoiding an aircraft crash, you may not be worthy to enter the Delta Sky Club.

    Unfortunately, Delta Airlines passengers experienced a rejected takeoff roll on Delta 1943 to avoid a collision with American Airlines flight 106 at New York JFK on January 13, 2023. After coming to an emergency stop, passengers would be inconvenienced further by being forbidden to enter a Delta Sky Club or the American Express Centurion Lounge at JFK after their near-death incident. The Delta Airlines 1943 flight was rescheduled for the next day. But, to help reduce overcrowding at the Delta Sky Club or the American Express Centurion lounge at JFK, according to the three-hour access policy, “Customers will be able to access Delta Sky Clubs anytime within three hours of their scheduled departure time.”

    Passengers arriving back to JFK after an aborted takeoff could not enter the airline lounges because they were not within three hours of their new scheduled departure time. There should be a club access policy exception to the Delta SkyClub and the AMEX Centurion Lounge for survivors who narrowly avoided a jet crash. Passengers should have the opportunity to change their underwear and enjoy a complimentary adult beverage. Membership has its privileges.

  26. Let’s not overthink this. The answer is simple. BUILD MORE SKY CLUBS. BUILD THEM NOW. A working Taco Bell can be built in a month! Delta should obviously embark on an aggressive Club building program. Stop yakking, get it done!

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