Scott McCartney of the Wall Street Journal nominated Delta Air Lines as America’s best carrier of 2018. He backs it up with specific statistics, but I have two other reasons to believe it’s true.
First: the people on the phone. Every phone call I’ve made to Delta—admittedly not often—has connected me to someone who is unfailingly polite (“oh, my son loves ____”) and absolutely competent (“I’m going to move you and your baby because that particular aircraft doesn’t have an extra oxygen mask in that row”). Sometimes even a little too chatty, in that charming southern way. That is absolutely not typical of other airlines in the US.
Second: employee autonomy. I also travel on a bunch of lower-cost carriers, and I’ve become accustomed to the notion that airline employees are slaves to the whims of some faraway machine with grander plans for us (inevitably referred to in conversation as “the computer”). Stuff goes wrong all the time in air travel. Senior employees of Delta appear empowered to do pretty much anything to correct problems. I’ve seen them rearrange seats, redirect luggage, and hold flights, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were allowed to re-route planes. I can’t forget the time that my flight to a funeral was canceled, putting me on standby for the last conceivable flight that could actually make it in time. The replacement flight was sold-out, but with no more than a nod at me, the gate agent turned away a paying passenger in the final minutes of boarding so she could give me the seat. That is the kind of world you get to live in when humans are in charge.