Delta Air Lines and American Airlines will resume their arrangement that allows them to rebook passengers on each other’s flights during poor weather or when operational problems cause flight delays or cancellations.
American and Delta cancelled an interline agreement in 2015 amid a contract dispute. Delta didn’t want to help a competitor with a significantly worse on-time record, at least without American paying more money for each customer. Delta said it helped five American customers for every one it sent to American. (At around the same time, United agreed to a new interline deal with Delta, at higher rates.)
“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,” American spokeswoman Leslie Scott said.
Complete interline agreements are relics from decades ago that most legacy airlines kept because they ensure their customers will reach their destinations when they delay or cancel flights. Interline agreements also usually ensure airlines can transfer checked baggage from one carrier to another, and allow customers to buy tickets with segments on both airlines.
A Delta spokesman suggested in an email that Delta does not characterize the deal as a true interline agreement, but said the two airlines again will cooperate during flight disruptions, and arrange for baggage transfers.
“This is strictly an irregular operations ticketing and baggage re-accommodation agreement,” Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant said. “A true interline means things like fare combinability for travel agency and third party sales. That’s not what this is. At any rate, it’s a tool that will give our employees more options to re-accommodate customers whose flights are cancelled during weather and other uncommon scenarios when Delta flights are canceled.”
Delta Asked for the New Agreement
While Delta remains the U.S. on-time leader among major airlines, and still cancels far fewer flights than its peers, it has faced several major operational challenges in the past two-and-a-half years — perhaps enough to persuade it to resume the arrangement with American.
In a statement, American’s Scott said Delta approached American “a few months ago” about accommodating each other’s customers. “We are pleased to have reached an agreement and to give our frontline team members additional customer protection options,” she said.
However, American still will seek to rebook customers on its own flights, or on flights operated by its partner airlines when possible, she said.
Delta would have been helped significantly by having agreements — whether interline or similar — with American during least four major incidents since 2015.
In August 2016, Delta canceled or delayed thousands of flights over several days after a computer system outage. It also had a smaller outage in January 2017, and suffered significantly in December 2017 when its Atlanta hub lost power, though that error was not its fault.
Delta also had trouble in April 2017 recovering from thunderstorms in the Southeast United States, stranding some of its customers for days. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution called it a “five-day meltdown.”
Afterward, Brett Snyder, an airline industry analysts and blogger, called on Delta to resume its interline agreement with American. He acknowledged Delta generally runs a better operation than American, but said Delta is far from perfect.
“Having the ability to put people on the other big U.S. airlines is an important tool, not only for customers but for employees too,” he wrote. “You think Delta’s frontline people are having a good week telling their customers that if they want to get that seat on American they’re on their own? Nope.”