Delta's new CEO wants you to cut the TSA line

Story highlights

  • New CEO Ed Bastian details what's ahead for Delta Air Lines passengers
  • Airline buying stake in Clear to allow loyal fliers to jump to front of TSA lines
  • Delta also adding more than 100 new planes and baggage tracking technology

Atlanta (CNN)They've handed Delta Air Lines' new boss the keys to the world's second biggest airline, and told him, "don't screw it up."

That's how CEO Ed Bastian jokingly put it last week as he took the reins. The 20-year Delta veteran hit the ground running by announcing several initiatives aimed at improving passenger experience.
    After surviving a slump in 2005, "this airline has never performed better in history," Bastian said.
    The feedback from fliers is impressive:
    On quality, Delta won No. 3 in the 2015 national Airline Quality Rating report, improving its score from the previous year.
    Satisfaction, got that too. It scored No. 2 in JD Power's North America Airline Satisfaction Study.
    Punctuality? Check.
    Last year Delta ranked as the No. 4 U.S. airline in on-time performance, according to the Department of Transportation, with a rate of 84.5%.
    "Delta has a problem," said airline analyst Brett Snyder of CrankyFlier.com. "And the problem is that it doesn't have a lot of problems."
    "It's hard not to get cocky when people are fawning all over you and telling you what a great job you're doing," Snyder said.
    "To me, that is the biggest issue that Ed faces in this job, is preventing Delta from getting too cocky and getting over confident."
    At an April 29 news conference at Delta's Atlanta headquarters, Bastian said, "we have much more to do." Here are three big topics he discussed in detail that will affect fliers:

    Move to the front of that long TSA line

    As major airports are beginning to complain about longer TSA screening lines, Delta is buying a 5% stake in the biometric and identification service Clear. Delta is offering loyal Skymiles customers the ability to move to the front of TSA Pre-Check lines.
    A regular annual Clear membership costs $179. TSA Pre-Check will run you $85 for five years. Bastian said Delta has negotiated a Clear discount for members of its SkyMiles frequent flier program and Diamond-level travelers can get it free. That starts this summer. 
    Bastian also said Delta is offering the TSA "staffing at no cost ... to help them clear the queues." All TSA work doesn't necessarily have to be done by badged TSA representatives, he said. "We've dedicated resources for helping them speed the screening checkpoints."

    Fewer baggage foul-ups

    This August, Delta says it will be among the first big airlines to use radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to track passenger baggage on a large scale. Paper tags on each bag broadcast tiny radio waves that can be detected by hand-held devices.
    Those waves carry data about each bag, including where it's supposed to go. If the bag is headed toward the wrong plane, it's flagged and re-routed correctly.

    That 'new plane smell': A younger fleet

    Delta is buying new airliners — 37 from French-based Airbus and at least 75 from Canada's Bombardier. Some will help replace Delta's aging workhorses, like the MD-88s, many which were built in the 1980s and '90s.
    The Airbus A321s Delta is buying "will seat 188 as compared to the MD-88 which seats 150," Bastian said.
    "So we'll provide more opportunity, more seats with a much better customer experience, as well," including high-capacity overhead bins, in-flight entertainment, full spectrum LED ambient lighting and in-flight Wi-Fi, he said.
    "They're addressing their slow Wi-Fi problems," Snyder said. "They're entering into an agreement with Gogo to bring in faster 2Ku Wi-Fi service. It'll take time but they're working on it."
    Delta will be the first U.S. customer for Bombardier's CS100 — the newly designed, single-aisle jets that seat 110 passengers. The cabins offer a widebody feel with, seat-back in-flight entertainment, large lavatories and big windows.
    First Class seats will be configured 2-by-2, with the remaining classes in 2-by-3. They'll start flying for Delta in 2018.
    Fifty spanking new Boeing 737-900ERs also will be sporting Delta colors over the next four years, Bastian said.
    But does this even matter? Do travelers really care about flying on new airplanes?
    Nope, not according to Snyder. "As long as you maintain your fleet and it's a nice experience on the inside, then it shouldn't matter what it is on the outside."

    Delta's secret sauce

    Bastian credits the airline's success on Delta's employees -- and the Delta brand -- which he says draws customers who will pay more for premium service. 
    Look for Delta to try new ideas aimed at getting customers to open their wallets. Snyder calls it "flexing their revenue muscles."
    We'll know Delta is crossing the line of cockiness, said Snyder, if it continues to flex its revenue muscles even when it's clear the strategy isn't paying off.
    "So we'll see," Snyder said. "I'll be really curious to see how that turns out."