Allison Ausband oversees the end-to-end customer experience that includes the Innovation and Customer Experience teams and the 56,000 team members in Delta’s Airport Customer Service, In-Flight Service and Reservations and Customer Care divisions who deliver those experiences. In an extraordinary two years for commercial airlines, Allison and her team have continued to innovate to meet evolving customer expectations while providing peace of mind during times of rapid change.
I’ll never forget the first time I flew into LaGuardia Airport as a young flight attendant 37 years ago. Just like the city itself, the airport’s energy and magic was infectious. It was palpable. I remember how excited I was getting off the plane, standing in the terminal and thinking: I’m in New York City!
When I started flying with Delta in 1985, I had the opportunity to see the world. I grew up in a small town in Georgia; New York City was the place to be. Everyone wanted to visit – to experience all the city had to offer. The airline landscape was vastly different then, and Delta didn’t have much of a presence in New York. That year, we operated only 34 daily flights from LaGuardia. Those flights were spread across 14 cities, ranging from Dallas-Fort Worth to Fort Lauderdale.
Huey Francis is one of Delta’s longest-serving employees. He’s approaching 50 years with the airline, 39 of them at LGA. We met at the airport last week, and I loved reminiscing with him a bit.
“When I first started (soon after Delta’s merger with Northeast Airlines), we had just six gates. There were just travel agents, no Expedia or anything like that. And they didn’t know about Delta. So, Delta employees used to give up one day off a week to knock on travel agents’ doors and explain everything (about our company),” he said.
Delta’s acquisition of Pan Am in 1991 changed everything and gave us the ability to see the world out of New York City. It took a lot of work to get our foot in the door in New York, but we knew we had the right product to win. With Pan Am, we gained international routes out of JFK and shuttle service for our business travelers from New York to Boston and Washington, D.C. In the decades that followed, Delta people showed grit and resilience through an economic crisis, bankruptcy, and a merger with Northwest Airlines.
A Delta Shuttle Boeing 727 in 1991 at LaGuardia.
Delta Shuttle kiosks at LaGuardia in 1991.
In 2011, U.S. Airways agreed to swap landing rights with us, which ultimately launched the largest network expansion at LaGuardia in more than 40 years. Delta gained 132 slot pairs at the airport, expanding our schedule by 60 percent and launching an era of renewed investment for Delta in New York.
Delta's expanded Terminal C presence in 2012.
You knew what to expect when you flew into LaGuardia, straight into the hustle and bustle of one of the biggest cities in the world. It was a distinctly New York experience where people always had somewhere to be. But the airport’s age was showing. The terminals were congested, the gate areas were too small, and airport roadways were a maze. “There were tough days,” said Huey. No matter who you were, you had to gear yourself up to get through that experience.
In 2017, we broke ground on a new $4 billion facility at LaGuardia, building on the more than $2 billion we had already invested in New York airports since 2011. This was Delta following through on our commitment to providing customers and employees across the state a world-class experience at one of Delta’s most important hubs.
Five years later, seeing our new Terminal C at LaGuardia come to life has truly been a full-circle moment, bringing back more excitement and luxury to the ground experience than we have had in New York in years. It’s one thing to have a premium experience on board, but the airport experience needs to match it. We want to serve our customers in an environment that’s conducive to quick and effortless movement, with ambiance and warmth. In its end state, the transformed LGA will be a 1.3-million-square-foot facility, housing four concourses and the largest Delta Sky Club in our system. Those six gates Huey mentioned will number 37.
“They say if you build it, they come. We did that (when we renovated) Terminals C and D,” says Huey. “Now we have this new terminal, and they're going to come again.”
From the moment you step onto the airport property, it’s your Delta, and we want it all to be a fantastic experience. With this state-of-the-art terminal, I hope customers will feel like we’ve invested in them and that their whole journey matters to us. I’m honored to still be here 37 years later to see what we’ve built in New York, to watch the transformation of LaGuardia and how we continue to pour in there. I’m even more honored to have sat down with someone who has spent more than half his life with this company and is still excited to get up and come to work every day.
“We’re not going back, we’re going forward. Back then, the airlines used to say, ‘this little Southern airline comes to New York, you guys aren’t going to make it’,” Huey said. “And I said we’re going to make it. And one day you’re going to work for us.”
And here we are now – it’s an incredible feeling. To our 10,000 New York-based Delta people and our customers: Welcome home.