July 4, 2022

Delta has an issue with Sky Clubs being overcrowded, to the point that many Sky Clubs have lines to get in, as if they’re night clubs. The Atlanta-based airline is now trialing a new method for dealing with this issue. Not only have we seen new lounge access restrictions added as of June 2022, but now Delta may no longer prioritize everyone equally when there is a queue to get into the lounge.

Why are Delta Sky Clubs so crowded?

On balance, Delta Sky Clubs are more crowded than American Admirals Clubs and United Clubs. That ultimately comes down to just how many people have access to these lounges:

  • You can of course buy a lounge membership directly, as is the case with all major US airline lounges
  • Delta’s long haul business class passengers have access to these lounges; unlike American and United, Delta doesn’t (yet) have dedicated lounges for long haul business class passengers
  • Those with an Amex Platinum get access to Delta Sky Clubs, and that’s a lot of people
  • Delta’s top tier elites can even select a lounge membership as an elite perk

When you combine these entry methods, there are a lot of ways to access Sky Clubs. Of course easy lounge access sounds like it would be good for travelers. However, it’s not great when you can’t reliably use the lounge, and it’s also not great if lounges aren’t peaceful due to the number of guests.

If only SkyClubs were regularly this peaceful…

Delta now prioritizing guests for lounge access

As noted by Zach Griff, Delta is currently trialing a new system for lounge access in Atlanta. In situations where there’s a wait to get into the lounge, the queue is no longer prioritized exclusively based on how long you’ve been waiting.

Rather there are now two lanes for accessing lounges. There’s one lane for the normal (special) people, and one lane for the special (special) people. Specifically, three kinds of passengers get access to a lounge access fast track lane:

  • Those flying Delta One, which is Delta’s business class on long haul flights
  • Those with Delta 360 status, which is Delta’s invitation-only elite status
  • Those with Delta Diamond Medallion status, which is Delta’s top-tier published elite status

The airline hasn’t yet made a decision about whether this will be extended beyond Atlanta, but rather I guess Delta is trying to see how this impacts the experience for various guests, and what the feedback is like. Fair enough.

We’re not all equal at the Sky Club anymore

My take on Delta’s new lounge prioritization

Delta is in a tricky spot. On the one hand:

  • Delta’s inability to expand its lounge footprint isn’t because the airline isn’t willing to pay, but rather because the space simply isn’t available at airports
  • Presumably Amex Platinums getting access to Delta Sky Clubs is a huge revenue stream for Delta, and I imagine Delta is contractually required to provide this, given its multi-billion dollar partnership with Amex

On the other hand:

  • Those being promised access to Delta Sky Clubs should be able to regularly get lounge access without having to wait; having to queue outside the lounge takes the fun away
  • If Delta does have to prioritize lounge access, it seems reasonable that those who are the best customers of the airline and those who outright paid for a business class ticket should be among the first to get access
  • Personally I also think those who outright paid for a membership should get priority as well, but that’s not happening here

The reality is that crowding will likely just continue to be a major issue, especially at hubs like Atlanta, and there’s not much that can be done. The only thing that will change is the types of travelers who are disappointed.

The only way that Delta could materially reduce lounge crowding would be to cut the number of people with the Amex Platinum that get Delta Sky Club access. That could really only be done by cutting lounge access for those with the Amex Platinum altogether, cutting lounge access for Amex Platinum authorized users, or the annual fee on the card being raised significantly higher than it already is. All of those scenarios seem unlikely to me.

Is it reasonable to prioritize lounge access in this way?

Bottom line

Delta is trialing a new way to deal with lounge overcrowding. In Atlanta, the airline now has a fast track lane for top tier elite members and business class members, so that they can access lounges that are at capacity before members and those with the Amex Platinum.

I’m curious to see what comes of this trial.

What do you make of Delta’s Sky Club fast track trial?

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