After 88 Long Years, Delta Air Lines Just Did Something Brilliant That Will Change the Way Many People Travel

In 1934, Delta Air Lines carried its first passengers along a mail route between Fort Worth, Texas, and Charleston, South Carolina. Since then, it has grown to become one of the largest airlines in the world by any number of metrics. In 2019, before the pandemic, it carried more than 200 million passengers

Serving that many people, and getting them to their destination safely and on time, is a complex operation with a lot of moving parts. One of the things that makes it so complicated is that people travel for a lot of different reasons.

When you think about it, that isn’t a problem unique to airlines. Chances are good that your customers come to you for a variety of reasons as well. Understanding that is one of the most important factors as to whether a company will be successful in addressing its customers’ needs. 

Some people travel for work and care mostly about convenient schedules and the perks that come from traveling frequently. On the other hand, those work travelers have very different needs and desires from a family heading on vacation. For one, the person traveling for work is most often traveling alone. A family of five people headed to Florida for spring break is a group of five people. There’s a pretty good chance they’d like to sit together.

As someone who recently booked a trip to Alaska for a family of six this summer, I can attest that is often a bigger challenge than you might think. Just because you can select your seats online, it doesn’t mean there will be the right number of them together.  

Now, however, Delta has a solution that is so simple, I can’t believe no airline has done this before. As reported by the Points Guy, Delta is now blocking off some rows on flights that can only be selected by groups of more than three travelers. 

Delta says it’s using an algorithm to determine how many rows to block on a given flight. For example, family-heavy routes will see more reserved rows than one that is more popular with business travelers. As things change–even on a given flight–Delta can adjust the number of seats available for selection by groups. 

In a statement, Delta confirmed the move and explained why it thinks blocking rows for groups and families is a good idea:

Being a customer-centric brand means we’re constantly working to offer optimal experiences across travel. Taking a dynamic approach with our seat map displays is one way of doing that by providing preferred seating choices in all cabins–at the time of booking or at the gate when working with an agent–for customers traveling alone or with a group.

Airlines have allowed people to choose their seats online for a long time. Of course, when and how much you have to pay to pick a seat in advance depends on the airline and the type of ticket you buy. If you buy a budget ticket in a lower fare class, your options for selecting your seat are more likely to be limited. 

Sometimes your only option is to show up at the airport and hope someone will voluntarily move seats when they realize that sitting next to your 7-year-old might not be the best way to spend their afternoon. That’s a lot more stress than anyone needs, especially when you’re headed on what is supposed to be an enjoyable vacation.

On the other hand, Delta’s solution is based on a simple idea: Make it easier for people traveling in groups to sit together. Even more important, Delta added the feature in an effort to “offer optimal experiences.”

I love that, because what defines an “optimal experience” for any given traveler depends on a range of variables. It depends on their needs and their circumstances. 

It’s worth mentioning because sometimes the best way to solve your customer’s problem is to realize they don’t all have the same problem. That’s not just true for airlines. It’s true for every business. Not all of your customers are the same, and the best experience for each will look different. Pretending that they are, or that they do, is just asking for disappointment. 

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.