For many travelers, Delta Sky Clubs are an oasis. They offer a quiet place to work, have a drink, and relax. And although that’s usually the case, there are times when the clubs feel just as crowded as the rest of the airport.

This project is a lesson in balancing lofty expectations with the reality of modern air travel.

"Overcrowding hurts our NPS."

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What can we solve?

The problem, according to Delta’s President and COO Glen Hauenstein, is this: “When Delta Sky Clubs are too crowded, guests complain about it, and it colors their overall travel experience. It’s the number one driver of NPS. Let’s fix that.”

If clubs are too crowded, that means there are too many guests, not enough space, or both. The challenge is that we can’t make the clubs larger. Nor can we reduce the number of members. So what can we do?

There had to be another option, so I traveled the world to find out.

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Image © Delta


I visited 22 Delta Sky Clubs in 7 states and 2 countries. My research included conversations with over 50 employees and 63 guests. The goal was to understand why clubs are crowded and how it affects guests and employees.

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The problem of data vs. insight

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22 Delta Sky Clubs
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50+ Employees
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63 Guests

Images © Delta


The learnings were eye-opening. Guests understood that clubs are sometimes crowded. Their frustration was in not knowing when that might happen. Put another way, guests just wanted to eliminate the surprise of a crowded club.

Employees echoed this sentiment. But they went a step further and said that we might be able to influence people’s decisions in a positive way.

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Designing a digital tool

The solution was simple. Allow customers to see how busy a particular Sky Club is before they arrive. This helps set their expectations and empowers them to make an informed decision to visit (or go elsewhere).

Initial wireframes explored how much granularity customers need, different visualization styles, and several delivery methods.

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Using tech to influence behavior

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Predicting occupancy

Above the entrance/exit in each Sky Club, we already use infrared sensors to keep a tally of how many guests are inside. This data is for internal use (operations planning, etc) and until now, hasn’t been accessible by customers.

By feeding over a year of this historical data into a regression model our AI team created, we can predict the next 30 minutes of occupancy (in 5 minute increments). To further improve accuracy, we also factor in a coefficient that takes into account flight delays and cancelations.

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Informed design decisions

Leveraging our research, we knew how guests wanted to access this tool (use the Fly Delta app) and what information they needed (club occupancy now + 30 minutes in the future, as well as a virtual queue). A digital survey of 300 additional Sky Club members revealed the best way to display this information (a bar graph).

Getting it into customers' hands

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Knowledge is power

A final round of user testing reinforced the notion that by simply setting expectations, we can improve the experience. Guests who used the prototype app before they entered a Sky Club gave a 20% higher NPS than those who didn’t. Clubs were equally crowded for both groups, but by eliminating the surprise, guests were more satisfied with their visit.

The pandemic put the brakes on bringing this feature to production, but as air travel picks up and clubs get more crowded again, it will likely make a return.