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Buttons signal disgruntled frequent fliers

By STEVE HUETTEL, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 14, 2003

Look closely on your next Delta Air Lines flight and you might see signs of a rebellion brewing among some of the airline's most loyal customers.

Delta angered thousands of elite-level fliers by cutting perks on its SkyMiles reward program. Those buying the cheapest tickets get credit for only half the mileage they fly toward earning elite Silver, Gold or Platinum Medallion status. And the airline is limiting the number of prized upgrades used to move from coach to first class.

A group of unhappy members launched, a protest Web site. They say more than 4,300 SkyMilers, with an average of 576,000 miles flown, have signed an online petition asking Delta to reconsider the changes.

Their latest tactic: wearing buttons that picture a rat or a man parachuting from an airplane with the message Driving Every Loyal Traveler Away.

"We thought the rat was cute, kind of like rats deserting the ship," said Bruce Schobel, of Princeton Junction, N.J., who flies more than 100,000 miles a year on Delta. "But some people thought it was nasty, so we went to parachute man abandoning the Delta plane."

Delta representatives met with leaders of the group at Newark International Airport last month but didn't make any promises. "At this point, we're evaluating their concerns," a Delta spokeswoman said.

The protesters next plan to make their case to shareholders. They've raised $6,000 to rent mobile billboards for Delta's annual meeting April 24 at New York City's Plaza Hotel. The vehicles will circle LaGuardia Airport and the Plaza.

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