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Delta bans employees from using Sky Club lounges

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The Sky Lounge during a tour of Delta Air Lines Terminal C at LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in the borough of Queens in New York City, USA, on Wednesday, June 1, 2022.

StephanieKeith | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Delta Airlines plans to restrict employee access to the airport’s luxurious and popular lounges next month, its latest attempt to ease crowding.

Starting Feb. 2, Delta will not allow employees to use the airline’s airport Sky Clubs when flying standby with company travel privileges, the airline told staff in a lengthy memo on Wednesday. They will also be restricted from using Sky Clubs when traveling on business.

“The employee discount on Delta Sky Club memberships has also been discontinued,” said the memo, seen by CNBC. “While we understand this can be disappointing, please know that this decision was not taken lightly. We are sure you will agree that providing an elevated experience to our most loyal customers should be our top priority.”

Lounges are not complimentary for Delta employees. But they can access them, as long as they have certain credit cards or buy Sky Club subscriptions, while traveling on employee benefits or flying nonrevving seats. Next month, employees will only have access to the lounges if they are flying on a paid ticket.

Complimentary seats on planes are a huge perk for airline employees and aren’t just used for vacations. Pilots and flight attendants generally do not live in their airlines’ base cities and commute to work without paying for seats, if space is available.

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“When we put our customers first and ensure they have the best experience, they will continue to prefer Delta’s premium products and services – which ultimately benefits all of us,” the memo continued.

Delta previously announced stricter policies for Sky Club entry for regular customers, also set to take effect in February.

“Delta people understand the role we all play in delivering an elevated customer experience. That’s why employees refrain from accessing Delta Sky Clubs when using their standby travel privileges or traveling on company business,” he said. the airline in a statement.

The measures come as Delta tries to reduce long lines and crowds at lounges. Travelers returned in droves, carrying piles of mileage racked up during the Covid pandemic and american express reward cards that grant entry to clubs.

Delta and other major carriers are making elite status harder to earn this year in response, scaling back after the pandemic freebies that allowed ground customers to keep their perks. They are also making bigger halls.

The changes announced Wednesday also apply to employees of other airlines who fly Delta through free employee travel benefits. A Delta spokesperson said there is no data available on how many employees use the airport’s lounges while they are not working.

Employees and retirees who have purchased club memberships or have Amex cards that come with lounge access can request a prorated refund from Delta, the airline said.

“The solution to their self-created crowding problem is to initialize their own employees,” said one Delta pilot, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not permitted to speak to the media. The pilot said that he and his wife have an Amex Platinum card, which charges an annual fee of $695, and that he uses a Sky Club once a month to “have an hour of peace and quiet” before a one-day mission. day. The lounges offer a wide variety of free food, drinks, seating and workspace.

“We are not freeloaders,” said the pilot. He said that although “he’s not Jeff Bezos”, he and his wife spend thousands a month on their Amex cards, but that he’s considering canceling them because of the change in lounge access.

A spokeswoman for Delta’s pilots’ union, the Air Line Pilots Association, declined to comment and said the benefit is not negotiated in airmen’s contracts. Union leaders reviewed a new contract proposal this week that could lead to an interim deal.

A Delta flight attendant, who also spoke to CNBC on the condition of anonymity for similar reasons as the pilot, called the decision “horrific and humiliating.”

“This is a decision that Spirit would make, not the legacy Delta,” said the flight attendant, referring to the low-cost airline in the industry, which does not have lounges.

Last year, Delta encouraged senior leaders to skip Sky Clubs to avoid crowds. Delta did not say whether it had plans to reverse the policy, which after February 2 will take effect “until further notice”.

American and United say they are not planning similar changes to their lounge policies, although operators occasionally adjust employee travel policies. For example, these carriers have stopped certain employee travel perks to London during the summer due to congestion.