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On a recent seven flight jaunt to the west coast and back (all on Delta), I had an opportunity to use and observe Delta’s “Early Valet” service that debuted this summer.  On the whole, I was favorably impressed, I came away with these thoughts and observations:

  • The service, which is free, involves Delta gate staff marking some carry-on bags with special Early Valet luggage tags and then taking the bags onto the plane before boarding begins and placing them in the overhead compartments directly above the owners’ assigned seats.

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  • When the bags are tagged, the gate agent writes the flight number and seat number on the back to ensure they are placed above the seats (as shown in the above photo).
  • The gate agent then moves the bags close to the boarding gate door, and when all have been assembled, he or she makes several trips down the Jetway with one, two, or three bags at the time to place them in the overhead compartments (as shown below).

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  • Watching the process, it seemed clumsy, but effective.  Over time, perhaps, assuming Delta continues the service, they’ll work out the kinks and make it more efficient.

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  • Early Valet was offered on three of the seven flights:
    • RDU/LAX – no
    • LAX/SEA – YES
    • SEA/SLC – YES
    • SLC/BIL – no (but this was an RJ)
    • BIL/MSP – no
    • MSP/ATL – YES
    • ATL/RDU – no
  • Presumably, Delta believes that boarding a few bags in advance will improve overall boarding time.  Certainly all seven flights I was on were full, with no empty seats, and thus all were candidates for the service–though, as I said, only three of the seven flights offered the service.

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  • As far as I know, Delta has not said what criteria it uses to decide which airports and which flights will offer Early Valet.
  • The Early Valet process doesn’t yet have a standard operating protocol, or so it seemed.  At LAX a gate agent made an announcement that the service was available “for a limited number of bags” for customers who so volunteered to use it.  I was quick to discern what she was talking about and offered mine immediately.  Slowly a few other customers figured out that Delta wasn’t going to shred their bags and brought their luggage forward.  When she had about a dozen pieces–all roller bags, by the way–she stopped taking more.
  • The LAX gate agent then made a second P.A. that gave me a chuckle. She warned folks using Early Valet that “the service does not continue on arrival. Passengers have to get their own bags down from the overhead and off the plane.”  It sounded as if some customers who had previously used Early Valet assumed that the luggage fairy would carry their bags from the plane at the flight’s destination as well as loading them at the origin airport!  However, I did not hear that heads-up again at the other two airports, one more indication that SOPs for executing the service are not yet in place.
  • I was impressed that the service was egalitarian.  It was not offered just to First Class or only to Elite customers, but to everyone equally.  In today’s flying world of highly parsed customer service, such equality is rare.
  • At least that was my first and second impression (flying from LAX and later out of SEA).  On the third leg (out of MSP) where the service was offered, the gate agent did not make any public announcement, but instead walked around quietly to families with children and to flyers obviously aged or infirm, offering the service only to them.  She collected enough bags that way to fill her quota (assuming there is one), and I stood by the gate lamenting that my roller bag was not among those rumbling down the Jetway as she made several trips to place them overhead their seats.  Still, I approved that the service wasn’t strictly for premium/elite flyers.
  • I asked the agent who handled the bags at LAX if she was part of the regular gate staff, but I did not get a clear answer.  She seemed to be a floating staff member who moved from gate to gate wherever the service was offered to supplement the usual over-worked gate staff.  However, I could have misunderstood her.  The reason for my question was to learn whether the Early Valet service required extra labor or could function with existing gate staffing.
  • In summary, I quickly got the hang of Early Valet and liked the service.  My bag was properly placed directly over my assigned seat, and I was able to sally forth onto the plane unburdened by the usual sea anchor on wheels behind me.  When I first read of it, I was mildly dismissive and unimpressed, but I was wrong.  Now I hope Early Valet lasts and is mimicked by other air carriers.
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