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Flyers’ Surprising Reaction to Delta CEO’s Departure

Yesterday’s big travel story was Delta’s announcement that the airline’s CEO, Richard Anderson, will retire on May 2, and be succeeded by Ed Bastian, currently Delta’s president.

Anderson’s lasting legacy as Delta’s leader is likely to be a positive one. He successfully oversaw the merging of Delta and Northwest. He pushed the airline to become one of the world’s most efficient operations. He kept the airline among the industry’s most reliable and prolific profit-generators.

For shareholders and much of the traveling public, Anderson’s Delta was an airline that made good on its key deliverables. But that’s not the whole story.

He was also notably curmudgeonly, crabbily withdrawing Delta’s support for Airlines for America, the airlines’ most prominent lobbying group, and waging a quixotic, high-profile battle with the Gulf carriers, which he claimed benefited unfairly from government subsidies.

RELATED: Delta Plans to Displace Elites with Paying Passengers in First Class

Where Anderson’s legacy turns decidedly negative is in his relentless focus on profitability, which often overwhelmed more consumer-oriented considerations. So, while Delta may get you to your destination on time, it won’t get you there cheaply, or comfortably, or in exchange for a generous dose of frequent-flyer miles.

In particular, the redesign of Delta’s SkyMiles program left many average travelers questioning their loyalty to the airline.

Flyers React to Anderson’s Exit

Given the criticism Delta has been subject to from the frequent-flyer community, I was curious about the reaction among road warriors to Anderson’s leaving. For that, there’s no better source than FlyerTalk, which predictably has a very active discussion thread dedicated to the upcoming management transition.

Given the makeup of the FlyerTalk community, which is populated by particularly seasoned travelers, many with elite status in multiple airline and hotel programs, my expectation was that the response to Anderson’s departure would be a collective sigh of relief, with some scathingly negative comments thrown in for good measure. Not so. In fact, surprisingly, there were many more complimentary comments than there were slams.

A few, representing both the kudos and the knocks:

Wow – I thought Richard Anderson has been a good CEO.

He’s been a good CEO. Certainly better than Jeffy and Dougie at UA and AA. Delta is historically profitable, and has the best OTP/reliability of any US carrier. If you’re looking for an airline that just works, Delta is really the only choice these days.

This management team has succeeded in delivering the most important aspect of air travel (besides safety) to most pax on a consistent basis – operational excellence – getting pax to their destination reliably and on time. What is the point of cheap upgrades and free tickets when you can’t rely on the airline to get you to your destination on a timely basis?

Dick is the best airline CEO since Bob Crandall. While many on this forum despise him for turning SkyPesos into SkyYen, he took over an airline exiting bankruptcy and will leave it as the most reliable large airline in the world. The operational performance of Delta in the past several months is sick. He’s the best there is out there. He’ll surely be missed.

Yes, such a respectable man. Let’s see, he lied and said MEM and CVG would not be cut. He put thousands out of work. He has alienated almost every Skyteam and codeshare partner. He cries to the DOT anytime he doesn’t get his way. He intimated that the ME3 were responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Yells about Boeing benefiting from ExIm but then turns around orders Airbus aircraft that are subsidized by EU taxpayers. Need I go on?

DL gets me where I need to go on time most of the time and I average about 60 segments a year. That’s good in my book. Medallion line reps are almost always friendly. Yes, FCM thrived under RA, and perks have vanished, but for my money DL is still one of the best options. I wish DL had an alliance like One World, but oh well.

He certainly slashed at the SkyMiles program and yanked benefits left and right from elites, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t sustain an airline that can nearly always get you from A to B when they say they’re going to. In my book, everything else is icing.

Mind you, most of the FlyerTalk posters are elite-level members of Delta’s SkyMiles program, and are therefore among the select few who still derive some value from the program. As for the other 99 percent, who find much less reason to participate in SkyMiles, they’re apparently just happy to arrive on schedule.

Anderson’s calculation, stressing profit over popularity, appears to have won the day. Which means that he’ll be remembered as a smart guy.

Not a bad legacy.

Reader Reality Check

What’s your assessment of the Anderson era at Delta?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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