Last week I flew on a Delta SkyMiles award ticket issued in economy class Raleigh to Billings, a free ride which I somehow managed to get for the cheapest possible mileage (virtually impossible in the summer months to Billings because of its relative proximity to Yellowstone). There was a catch, of course:  The outbound routing at the lowest mileage award was a convoluted three flight leg affair: RDU/DTW/MSP/BIL. I didn’t care because I was on vacation.

To my astonishment, Delta upgraded me on all three flight legs outbound. On free tickets at the lowest possible award seat mileage. Imagine that!  Maybe my Delta Five Million Miler/Lifetime Platinum status means something after all.

When I arrived at Raleigh/Durham Airport, though, I hit a snag.  The aircraft assigned to the RDU/DTW flight suffered a mechanical at the gate, precipitating a delay which threatened the short 40 minute connection in Detroit to my DTW/MSP flight. The RDU Delta gate agent working my Detroit flight said I wouldn’t make it, so he switched me to the slightly later (607am departure instead of 600am) RDU/MSP flight to guarantee I’d get it to Billings on time.

Of course I expected to be back in coach where I started, but the gate agent handed me a first class boarding pass on the RDU/MSP flight. On that free, low mileage ticket, a fourth upgrade for that itinerary.   I boarded the direct flight to the Twin Cities thinking how grateful I was to Delta for properly taking care of me.  As we know all too well, it doesn’t often happen.

It’s not just that the Delta systems seem to be programmed better than ever before to recognize loyalty and reward it.  In my observation, there has been a gigantic positive change in professionalism in the rank-and-file customer-facing staff at Delta—the counter/gate agents and flight attendants—compared to the last 25 or so years. At least for a few magic moments, it seems, everything is working as it should, with service consistency nearly universal..

Going home the following week, I was again upgraded on one segment (Billings to Minneapolis) and came within one person of a perfect six out of six upgrades on the connecting flight.  See the screen shot (below) I captured from my phone. There was only one F Seat left, and I was #2 on the upgrade list.

I am not complaining, though.  Being upgraded—on a cheap mileage award ticket, no less—on five out of six flights to Billings and return was awesome.

Even the one seat in the back of the bus was comfortable: 10C in Comfort+ (bulkhead aisle just behind First).

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I was also impressed that I could track upgrade standby status on my phone through the Delta app rather than staring at the gateside screen. Since MSP Airport was jam-packed, I was happy to monitor my chances while staying out of everybody’s way.

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MSP G gates were SRO on a Tuesday night this summer.

Another instance of the new, improved service culture at Delta occurred in Billings.  My cheap mileage award ticket included the three flight legs outbound mentioned earlier, along with a 3.5 hour layover in Minneapolis returning.

The long connection turned out to be a blessing because the BIL/MSP flight was two hours late. A goose smacked into the plane which was originating in Minneapolis, damaging the avionics, which precipitated an aircraft swap.  The Billings gate staff kept us well-informed about the nature of the delay and the new departure time.

But the Delta folks in Billings provided more than just accurate information.  They brought out a wide variety of snacks, bottled water, and fresh hot tacos for everyone at the gate suffering through the long delay.  The staff even kept us informed about the free food, announcing when they were bringing the tacos through security after having them catered from somewhere off-airport.  The tacos were delicious!

If Delta keeps making my travels so easy and stress-free, then what am I am going to complain about?  Maybe that the sauce on the free tacos wasn’t spicy enough?  Or that my Bloody Mary on the first flight didn’t have a lime?

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