Last updated: 05:00 AM ET, Thu February 25 2016

Delta Finding Itself The Voice of Dissent in The 'Big Three'

Airlines & Airports | Delta Air Lines | Josh Lew | February 25, 2016

Delta Finding Itself The Voice of Dissent in The 'Big Three'

Photo courtesy of Delta

After the American Airlines-U.S. Airways merger, only three legacy carriers remain in the United States: Delta, American and United. These "Big Three" have a lot of common interests when it comes to things like regulations and competition against low cost carriers, but what's surprising is how often they have found themselves on opposite side of certain issues lately.

In most instances, Delta is finding itself on the opposite side of  United and American. If this trend continues, it might be time to put the "Big Three" moniker to bed.  

One of the most simplistic examples of this trend is the re-introduction of snacks on domestic flights. American and United recently started serving peanuts (and other snacks) on domestic routes after several years of snack-less flying. Delta, however, never nixed its snack service. It was quick to point out this fact amidst all the buzz earned by its two peers when they started up this perk once again. 

Another instance of opposing viewpoints occurred when the U.S. government negotiated with Japan to allow American carriers more access to Tokyo Haneda Airport. Delta was against the move because, unlike American and United, it lacks an ally in Japan. Delta lost the argument for maintaining the status quo (which saw most U.S. flights using farther-out Tokyo Narita) when Washington agreed to the Haneda deal. 

READ MORE: Can the Government Keep Delta from Dropping a Flight?

The biggest Big Three rift revolves around air traffic control in the United States. Delta actually left the industry’s main lobbying alliance, Airlines for America, because it did not agree with American and United on this issue.

Basically, Airlines for America is seeking the privatization of air traffic control systems in the country. The idea is that a private, non-profit organization, at least partially overseen by the airlines themselves (representatives from major carriers would have seats on the governing board), would help ATC move forward with improvements and with the eventual implementation of so-called NextGen air traffic control systems. 

Delta, however, disagrees with this approach, preferring to go it alone. The airline has been very vocal about what it considers major drawbacks to the privatization scheme. Delta has said that it is an unnecessary step and that lobbying efforts should be focused on getting the FAA to improve and adopt NextGen technology instead of stripping it of control of ATC. 

READ MORE: Why Delta Is Against Privatizing Air Traffic Control in the US

To support its point, Delta has commissioned studies and touted the views of one of its executives,  Steve Dickson (vice president of Delta's flight operations), who has written several widely circulated op-eds arguing that the FAA should retain control of ATC.

Both airlines have put considerable lobbying muscle behind their arguments. Low cost carriers like Southwest and the union that represents air traffic controllers have come out in favor of privatization, so the final vote could lean in the direction of privatization. 

However, this and other recent instances have shown that at least Delta is willing to act independently rather than as part of the "Big Three."

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