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What's the most stressful part of your trip? Delta wants to know

Key Points
  • Delta Air Lines is aiming to gather — and use — more customer data to improve air travel.
  • The air carrier's surveys found that 60% of customers choose seats on factors other than the lowest fare.
  • Delta's CFO Paul Jacobson spoke at CNBC's @Work Human Capital + Finance Summit in Chicago on Tuesday,
A Delta Air Lines Airbus A330-300 landing at Athens International Airport AIA.
Nicolas Economou | NurPhoto | Getty Images

If air travel makes you anxious, Delta Air Lines wants to know about it.

The third-largest U.S. carrier is collecting more data than ever before from customers in an effort to see what makes them keep coming back to the airline and what gives them travel jitters along the way, CFO Paul Jacobson said Tuesday at CNBC's @Work Human Capital + Finance Summit conference in Chicago.

"We have all the data points from every step in your journey and we use that data," he said. "We're looking at a level of precision in the business that we've never looked at before, and a lot of that comes down to the psychology of the customer and understanding what each leg in the journey makes the customer feel like."

Through surveys and data on customer spending habits, Delta is courting higher-paying customers and is betting that travelers want more than the lowest fare.

Delta's president, Glen Hauenstein, last week told analysts that the airline found through surveys that 60% of customers were choosing seats on factors other than the lowest fare.

"I think when you look back and say what was wrong with this industry 5 or 10 years ago is we all thought that it was a race to the bottom and that the only thing that mattered to consumers was having the lowest fare," Hauenstein said.

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CFO Jacobson said the carrier, which is seeing such a rise in sales of premium-class seats that it recently started breaking it out in quarterly results, also wants to know what irks travelers during their trips.

When asked how the airline would approach an issue like the Boeing 737 Max crisis, Jacobson said data collection could include whether a traveler is worried about flying on a certain type of aircraft. (Delta does not fly the current 737 Max, which has been grounded since March after two crashes, but some of its partner airlines and competitors do.)

"Whether it's anxiety from the travel or the type of airplane they are flying" the carrier aims to collect that information for its employees "so they might comfort passengers that might need it," he said.

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