The U.S. has historically led the way in the air travel sector, from the early days of rapid industry development following the Wright brothers’ success at Kitty Hawk to air travel’s glory days during the Pan Am era. But over the past two decades, America has fallen farther and father behind when it comes to the quality of commercial airline service. Today, instead of leading the industry or even treading water to keep up, east Asian and southwest Asian air carriers have bolted ahead of their Western competition by light years. By many accounts, several European carriers occupy the second tier of international airlines, leaving U.S. airlines in a distant third-tier. If American air carriers want to at least stay relevant, or better yet catch up, they first need to wake up, recognize the trends, dump the delusional corporate talking points, and fundamentally change the nature of the products and quality of the service they offer.
As a Diamond Medallion on Delta Air Lines, that airline’s uber-elite frequent flier tier, I frequently find myself face-to-face with Delta’s CEO, Richard Anderson, as he delivers a recorded greeting for passengers at the beginning of every flight’s video safety presentation. Before each flight even takes off, passengers are remind of just how 20th century Delta Air Lines is via this dated and bland greeting from the company’s chief executive. While Mr. Anderson and Delta’s team of inside-the-box executives and marketers evidently thought that adding this short recorded message from the top was a net plus, I would venture to bet that the growing legions of ultra-savvy modern travelers, like me, see it instead as yet another reminder of just how old-school this airline’s internal thinking — and the external manifestation of that internal thinking – really is.