Changing Planes

My wife & I are boarding more flights than usual as we anticipate our upcoming relocation to South Carolina. “More than usual” deserves context I suppose, since so many of us skipped airports altogether the last couple of years. Flying is different now – some ways better, others not so much (and unquestionably more expensive). Regardless, I was happy to learn our favorite choice of airline before AND after the emergence of COVID just earned the label “world’s best” for 2021. Care to guess which one?

I already gave you the subtlest of hints in my blog title.  With mathematics at least, the world’s best airline is also known as “an incremental change in a variable”, which makes its logo – the triangle – a fitting symbol.  Its slogan is the uber-confident “world’s most trusted airline” but I prefer one of its older ones:

Maybe Delta Air Lines is your airline of choice too.  If not, you’re wondering where your favorite ranks among the world’s best.  I’ve never heard of Cirium (have you?) but the data-mining company spends its days converting 300 terabytes of aviation performance metrics into annual best-in-class rankings. (300 TB meant nothing to me until I crunched a few numbers.  A ten-page Word doc is about 2 MB  By my calcs Cirium is sorting through five million pages of data.  I’d say their rankings are legit, wouldn’t you?)

Let’s end the suspense.  Here are the top ten airlines measured by “operational performance”, for 2021:

  1. Delta (“Platinum Award” winner)
  2. Alaska
  3. American
  4. United
  5. Spirit
  6. Frontier
  7. Southwest
  8. JetBlue
  9. Air Canada
  10. Allegiant

Delta should put a lot of stock in this win, and not just because 9 of its 10 aircraft arrived on time in 2021 (10% better than second-place Alaska).  It’s more about the impact of the passenger experience to the result.  Is the boarding process efficient?  Is the flight crew rested and available?  Is the aircraft properly maintained? How is baggage handled? How are unruly passengers dealt with (a more recent trend)?  Every one of these details number-crunches to a measure of on-time arrivals.  And no one does it better than Delta.

I may be biased but my own experiences seem to back up the numbers.  My wife & I have flown Delta several times since 2019 (including a trip to Europe) and every one of those journeys met or surpassed our expectations.  I’m not saying Delta goes over the top to gain customer loyalty (though a warm chocolate-chip cookie would help).  They simply do what I expect.  Arrive on time and make the journey as pleasant and efficient as possible.  Is that too much to ask?

Sadly, my affection for Delta is bolstered by my dissatisfaction with its competitors. I’m surprised to see American and United make the top five.  My family and I have had several lousy experiences with American, including delayed or canceled flights and could-care-less customer service agents.  Meanwhile, United may know how to arrive on time, but their coach seats should be labeled “cattle class” (not unlike Spirit and Frontier).  Drop down the tray table and open your laptop.  I challenge you to type comfortably.

Southwest could’ve been higher in Cirium’s rankings but I’m sure their logistical issues last year contributed to the number.  Scores of their canceled flights were attributed to “weather challenges” during an unprecedented upheaval in the workforce.  I’ll forgive the bald-faced excuse.  When Southwest is running on “all engines” their brand of customer service is second to none – which keeps me coming back for more.

From my days in corporate America, I remember an equilateral triangle as the symbol of a successful company, giving balance to customers, employees, and shareholders.  Looks a lot like the Delta logo, doesn’t it?  More than just a nod to the Greek letter (Delta) or a throwback to its origins in the Mississippi (“Delta”, that is).  Even the dictionary definition of delta belongs in the conversation. Positive change befits operational excellence.

If my wife & I were relocating to Salt Lake City or Atlanta (or one of Delta’s other hubs), we’d be changing planes and flying more often with the “triangle”. Just this week my wife enjoyed another Delta flight she described as “perfect except for a few inconsiderate passengers” (which seems to be the norm these days). Delta celebrates one hundred years of passenger flights in 2029 so it’s safe to say they’re guided by experience.  The Cirium ranking is just a numbers-crunching confirmation of what I already know.  Delta is ready when I am.  Or, to put it mathematically, Δ = (S)atisfaction + (L)oyalty.

Some content sourced from the CNN Travel article, “The world’s best-performing airline has been revealed”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.


Lego Grand Piano – Update #18

(Read about how this project got started in Let’s Make Music!)

Today’s section of the symphony could’ve, maybe should’ve used a stand-in pianist.  Bag #18 – of 21 bags of pieces – assembled a little more than half of the piano’s top lid.  I show the structure on its side in the first photo because that’s how I built it, from the ground, er… desk up.  I imagined myself as a tiny mason, building a wall brick-by-little-brick, working right-to-left, then over to the right again.  You – my faithful reader – could’ve handled this part of the construction easily.  In Lego terms, it’s a wall made with various lengths of rectangle pieces.  That’s it.

Not a wall, but part of the hinging piano lid.

Know what I love about this adventure? (which is rapidly coming to a close!) You don’t always see what’s coming.  I knew I was building the top lid, but it was hard to see how it fit the piano until I set it on its side when I was done (second photo).  More to my point, I have three bags of pieces remaining.  One is the remainder of the piano lid.  One is the free-standing bench for the pianist.  Which leaves… you see? I still have no idea what’s coming.

Running Build Time: 13.0 hours.  Musical accompaniment: Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique. Leftover pieces: None!

The top lid rests in its future location.

Conductor’s Note: The story behind Louis-Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique is more interesting than the piece itself (seriously).  At the somewhat tender age of 24, Berlioz fell in love with an Irish Shakespearean actress, who kept him at bay until she finally agreed to be his –  seven years later. Maybe the length of Berlioz’s pursuit extinguished the flame because the romance didn’t last.  But Berlioz wasn’t left empty-handed.  He composed the Symphonie fantastique to depict the idealized version of his Irish lover. I just didn’t find his music fantastique.

Author: Dave

Three hundred posts would suggest I have something to say… This blog was born from a desire to elevate the English language, highlighting eloquent words from days gone by. The stories I share are snippets of life itself, and each comes with a bonus: a dusted-off word I hope you’ll go on to use more often. Read “Deutschland-ish Improvements” to learn about my backyard European wish list. Try “Slush Fun” for the throwback years of the 7-Eleven convenience store. Or drink in "Iced Coffee" to discover the plight of the rural French cafe. On the lighter side, read "Late Night Racquet Sports" for my adventures with our latest moth invasion. As Walt Whitman said, “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” Here then, my verse. Welcome to "Life In A Word".

28 thoughts on “Changing Planes”

  1. So, Delta is it. I haven’t flown Delta in a long time. Lately American always pops up and United the seats keep getting tighter and tighter with no leg room, if someone in front tilts the seat back, it’s over for the knees — impossible to put our own tray down. Cattle class is right. GREAT job on the piano.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad it’s not just me with United’s lack of legroom. We hadn’t flown them in years, so I’m pretty sure they redesigned their planes in the meantime with tighter seats. It’s to the point where they should really just do away with reclining seats. What used to be a nice option for comfort is now perceived as inconsiderate to the person behind you. I never even think of putting my seat back anymore.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s been a long time since I was on an airplane. When I lived in San Jose, it seemed like Delta didn’t go from there to anywhere I was going. Most of the flights I do are actually to London to visit my wife’s family in the UK so we take Virgin Atlantic most of the time. When my daughter lived in FL we clocked a lot of time with United. I’ve flown on Alaska twice – each time me and my baggage ended up in different airports.

    Looks like you’ll be done soon with the piano!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. International flights should be the stuff of a whole different blog post. It seems the airlines raise their standards outside of the U.S. We flew SAS to Europe once, and to this day it remains the best all-around experience we’ve ever had. Even the Delta flight to Europe I mentioned seemed a cut above a routine Atlanta-to-Denver flight. Once upon a time flying around the U.S. was a very classy way to travel. Everyone dressed up. As I said, once upon a time…

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I take no issue with United despite my criticism. They’re a business like any other, so if an extra row or two of seats boosts their profit, good on them. But American needs to do better to win back my loyalty. In particular, their customer service (or lack of) is unforgivable. I hope you have uneventful, on-time flights and don’t have to deal with some of their behind-the-scenes employees. They could use a little training on empathy.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Good reminder, Neil! I do have my selections chosen for the final three assemblies but then I need a couple more so I can perform a little “concert” to show off the finished product. Gotta come up with something better than “Chopsticks”.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Paula and I fly almost exclusively American and are very satisfied with them. However, that may be because we are Platinum members so their service is excellent. Also, we mostly go to Philadelphia which is their main hub, so there are lots of flights and the planes need to be there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to hear a more favorable opinion of American! Their daily hoppers from tiny Augusta, GA to Charlotte, NC are notoriously late (while Delta’s to Atlanta are not – go figure), so miss a connection or two and you’re not their biggest fan. Maybe American’s customer service agents are more empathetic in their hubs as well. Have to admit, our satisfaction with Delta comes from paying more for their “comfort plus” seats, where the legroom is noticeably better.


  4. Hi Dave,.
    I agree with you, and with Cirium, Delta is the best! I am a fan! I have always had the best experience flying with them, and have the Delta Amex to help me get extra miles.
    The piano is looking great!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, a Delta credit card! Hadn’t thought of that, Ana. I’m not happy with one of the cards I have now, so maybe you’ve come up with the right replacement 🙂


    1. I was hoping for a more favorable comment from you, Joni, especially with “your” airline. I’ve considered American and United our “national” airlines, which only adds to my disappointment in them. We flew SAS to Europe once, after which I thought, “Yep, once again the Nordic countries get something completely right”.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I haven’t flown Air Canada many times and not recently, but my impression is they are the airline everyone loves to complain about, esp. as the government has to bail them out occasionally using our tax dollars. Usually people use cheaper companies like Westjet for travel inside Canada, charters like Sunwing for vacations south, and as you said European airlines to Europe.


  5. Delta wins? Wow. When I’ve flown Delta I’ve had dramatically different experiences, either wonderful or mediocre. Never in-between. I try to avoid them when possible. Of course that was pre-pandemic so maybe they’ve upped their game now. Interesting list nonetheless.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I expected to hear more differing opinions like yours, Ally. My brother praises American in an earlier comment but acknowledged he flies from one of their hubs, and as a “Platinum member”. I fly American from the smallest of airports (Augusta, GA), where their daily hopper to Charlotte is frequently late in departing. So maybe the airlines focus their resources and better performances on airports where they have the biggest presence?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s been years since I’ve done any air travel Dave, so I don’t have a current opinion. I know Delta has a hub here at Detroit Metro and there were/are always complaints of overbooking with Delta looking to bump people off their flight as a result of it. Your piano looks great and the lid has a polished finish like the finest wood lid on a full-size piano.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Overbooking seems more common than ever now, Linda. Perhaps the airlines have cut back their fleets in an effort to maximize passenger counts. We’ve never been bumped but I also can’t recall the last flight where there was an empty seat. The grand piano will probably be the closest I get to owning the real thing. We looked into purchasing one once and – no surprise – they’re way, way beyond our budget!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Our local Scheel’s department store has the Lego Grand Piano displayed in a glass box, which makes it look even more elegant. Would make transport to the South easier too. We got 20″ of snow over the weekend, a blessing considering Colorado’s fire season is already underway. It was so moisture-laden it felt like shoveling water. Our trees and plants are rejoicing 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well that showcase would enhance that Lego Grand Piano for sure. That’s a lot of snow Dave – the national news mentioned the snow but not as much as the heat wave going on simultaneously. Glad your fire season gets some help – too much wildfire devastation these days.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. We’re Delta fans too. Can’t think of a bad experience during any of our many flights over the decades. One time while traveling alone, I sat in the waiting area for my Delta flight when they called my name over the loud speaker and asked me to come up to the desk. A kind woman asked if I’d change seats so a father and son could sit together. Since she offered me another aisle seat, which is what I prefer, I said yes. A bit later she called me up AGAIN, and asked me to change once more. I’d still be in an aisle seat, so I said yes again. The THIRD time they called my name, she said, “Since you were so gracious to change your seat twice, I have good news for you. We have an open seat in first class. Would you like to change again?” How’s that for good customer relations?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wonderful story, Nancy (and I would’ve done the same thing). I’ve often wondered why the airlines don’t fill up their first-class seats on every flight. How wonderful would it be – as with your experience – to be gifted the experience of first-class at no additional charge? Wouldn’t you be loyal to the airline forever after? Perhaps the food and drink and other extras are more expensive than I think!


  8. I don’t fly frequently enough to generate good data, so in my experience an airline is an airline is an airline, with some flights good and some flights bad.

    I think I have heard that Berlioz piece, but I cannot call it up in my mind, so it must not have made much of an impression.


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