I Got A Porsche Ride From Delta! (And Probably Never Will Again)

Since 2012, Delta has been executing their oft-touted – but rarely experienced – “Surprise and Delight” program. The concept is simple: select Diamond Medallion members with tight connections in hub airports are met at their arriving flight by a Delta representative, walked down to the tarmac, and whisked away to their connecting flight via a Porsche.

The following Delta hubs currently have this program in place:

  • Atlanta (ATL)
  • Detroit (DTW)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP)
  • New York – Kennedy (JFK)
  • New York – LaGuardia (LGA)
  • Salt Lake City (SLC)
  • Seattle (SEA)

The program doesn’t get much publicity from Delta’s side – likely because it’s very much not a guarantee, and is intended as a surprise service for select Diamond Medallions. As a matter of fact, the entire Delta website devotes a grand total of three paragraphs to the program.

Personally, I’d been hearing rumors about this elusive program for several years, and had even seen a Porsche out of my window once or twice, but beyond that, my belief in the program’s existence ranged somewhere between Santa Claus and unicorns.

Well, last week I learned that unicorns do indeed exist, in the form of Porsche Panameras. And they even come with massage seats and personal photographers.

My experience with Delta’s Porsche ride

I was flying my fairly typical route from Hartford’s BDL to San Francisco’s SFO, this time with a connection in Delta’s Minneapolis-St. Paul hub. A flash snowstorm had forced us to deice prior to takeoff and had us slightly delayed upon arrival.

To add insult to injury, I was connecting from the C gates to the G gates which, contrary to common knowledge of the alphabet, are pretty much clear across the terminal. Not tight enough of a connection to miss my flight, but enough to warrant some preemptive quad stretches while we were waiting for the jet bridge.

So you can imagine my surprise (and delight!) when I stepped off the plane and was greeted by a petite woman holding a clipboard who asked, “Hi, are you Ms. OMAAT?”

(Okay, that’s not exactly what she called me, but you get the idea.)

Greetings and formalities aside, I was most stricken by two thoughts:

  • How on earth does she know who I am?
  • Crap, I have gate-checked luggage! Will she wait for me to get my bag?

Fortunately, she didn’t bat an eye when I choked out a flabbergasted “I can’t leave without my luggage,” like it was the first time she had picked up a passenger with a gate-checked bag. So off we went to the baggage cart on the tarmac.

Dreams do come true

My first aviation geek moment came when we deplaned via a separate staircase off of the jet bridge – a first for me.

(Apologies in advance for the quality of the photographs; Minneapolis isn’t exactly known for an abundance of daylight around the winter solstice. But that didn’t stop me from trying.)

Side note: this was probably not the best day for me to take a new suitcase on its maiden voyage – I was a little embarrassed when she asked me what color my bag was and I couldn’t give a definitive answer.

Luggage confusion aside, just hanging out on the tarmac by the planes was enough of a treat in and of itself. But of course, my chariot awaited:

We zipped around MSP’s tarmac to the G gates, and my driver offered to take her time so that I could enjoy the ride and check out the planes. I asked her about how she liked her job, and she showed me how to turn on the massage function in the passenger seat (because there is such a thing, apparently).

Before I knew it, we were at my departing gate. I snapped one last picture of the Porsche and she carried my suitcase up the stairs (which I decided were built for elves, given that they were only about five inches tall)

The plane wasn’t quite ready for boarding, so she escorted me back to my gate. I thanked her profusely, and off she went to go make someone else’s day.

The trippiest part of the whole experience was going backward through the jet bridge of my new plane and watching her unlock the door into the terminal.

Fun facts about Delta’s Porsche rides

While I was giddy with delight, I put on my best “act like you’ve been here before” face and hunkered down to try and learn more of the program. For the sake of the blog, of course.

Our time together was roughly ten minutes, but she filled me in on the following:

  • There isn’t a ton of rhyme or reason to the selection process of who does or doesn’t get a Porsche ride. Every day, she gets a list of all of the Diamond Medallions, and tries to chauffeur as many of them as possible based on connections that look tight.
  • In addition to their time on the tarmac, the chauffeurs do get to take the cars on the highway from time to time. Apparently, driving 15 miles per hour isn’t the best way to preserve high-end German sports cars, so the nearby freeway is a nice opportunity for these vehicles to stretch their proverbial legs.
  • Families can occasionally hop a ride if they are traveling together, but the Panameras only have two seats in the back, so she has occasionally had to turn away families of four when they have been traveling on separate itineraries.
  • When the Porsches aren’t on the tarmac, they live at valet (at least at MSP).
  • The cars are replaced every year.
  • No, passengers can’t drive the car, no matter how nicely they ask.
  • Yes, everyone wants their picture taken. She kidded around that her secondary job is as a professional photographer.

Anyway, that’s the most I could squeeze out of our ten minute ride, which ended with the obligatory photograph (I wasn’t planning on modeling during this particular flight, so please be nice…)

How to score a Porsche ride

First off, unless you are a Diamond Medallion doing the weekly grind, you probably won’t.

Beyond that, it’s a crapshoot. I know of someone who has flown upward of two million miles and has yet to see the elusive vehicle pull up, while I’ve talked to weekly road warriors who can rattle off airport-by-airport statistics of which models of Porsche are on offer.

So, to the best of my knowledge, here are the steps that I would take in order to tip the German automobile scales in your favor:

  1. Spend lots of money on Delta, get Diamond Medallion Status
  2. Hope
  3. Pray
  4. Book tight connections during non-peak travel times
  5. Repeat steps two and three

Oh, and in case you’re wondering – I was traveling on an economy award ticket, so I’m pretty sure fare class isn’t a deciding factor. And I’m approximately 150% positive that no one at Delta knows that I’m “Ms. OMAAT.”

Bottom line

With the stringent new spend requirements and my Diamond Medallion status set to expire at the end of January, this was almost certainly a once-in-a-travel-lifetime experience. But with airlines hacking away at frequent flyer benefits left and right, it’s a rare treat when a top-tier elite truly feels special.

And for those ten minutes, that’s exactly how I felt. From the element of surprise, to the behind-the-scenes tour, to the ride in a car that costs more than a starter home in some markets, it was like attending a crash course on customer service.

In this particular case, Delta nailed it.

So while I can’t really give much in the advice of how to score one of these rides, I can confirm that they are absolutely worth every ounce of hype.

Have you ever gotten a surprise airport transfer, on Delta or otherwise?

Comments

  1. And commentators on frequent flyer blogs still are confused as to why Delta has a great reputation with those that fly a lot. Good, thoughtful service here.

  2. Happened to me once in the three years I was Diamond. NYC had a snowstorm, and people were still sleeping in T4 the day after. I got a call the morning of my flight to use T2 instead of T4, and that before security, I should call the number back and she’d get me and drive me over to T4. Sure enough, she took me through security, across to T4 in a Cayenne, and then down to the SkyClub in a cart. It was super nice and no idea why I was so lucky that day.

  3. As a long time Diamond Medallion/multi-million miler and often with tight connections in DTW, I get these rides all the time. I even get them sometimes without a tight connection and they just drive me to a gate closest to the lounge. That only happens when they say there’s no other DM with a tight connection.

  4. I got 4 rides last year. I only fly for leisure and found that at non business traveler times (holiday weekends) and when I had a +1 on my reservation I was more likely to get a ride. I also had 3 of the 4 rides in Seattle.

  5. It’s funny how we (JFK Employees) look at it ..Delta doesn’t have one single baggage cart in good condition, but have Porsches on the ramp.
    Clowns!!

  6. I would say … be a DM and book a tight connection in MSP. I’ve gotten the cars there now 4 times, including once or twice when I really didn’t need it. Yet close connections in ATL and DTW, nothing. Maybe it’s just my luck, but it seems like MSP is more proactive about this program.

  7. I have had this probably 5 times in five years. Best was on a vacation with the wife and seeing her reaction to being met at the bottom of the jet bridge and then getting into a Cayenne. Of course now she thinks all of my trips are just porsches and sky clubs and hotel lounges. I would say Seattle had the most frequent pickups for me though. And SLC second.

  8. The worst time not getting a Porsche was in MSP. Landed late due to a mechanical delay and had 15 minutes to get from C22 to F11. Now as Steph mentioned this is a minimum 10-15 minute walk. My travel team was three diamonds and a platinum all on the same flights. Guess what wasn’t waiting to meet us. I ran and made my flight but the other three were old and couldn’t run that far. So it is a total crap shoot on getting one of these.

  9. I think the Cayenne is a better choice for airport transfers.

    On a different note, one doesn’t have to spend lots of money and become a DM to get this. Save the money on travel on DL and instead rent a luxury sports car when you want to enjoy the weekend. Living in NYC, I don’t own a care (who would?). My wife and I do rent nice cars once a while for our getaways. Significantly cheaper than trying to qualify for DM and being forced to fly DL everywhere.

  10. I have been lucky enough to have it twice now!! I even got a special offer to visit the Porsche experience in Atlanta (I haven’t been able to go yet though). And both times I have had this luck, I was never really expecting it, but boy was it ever fun!!

  11. The steps to the jet bridge are very short due to the fact that they can adjust the height of the jet bridge based on aircraft size. If there was a 767 or another tall aircraft at the gate, the steps would look more normal.

  12. Porsche and Delta have a marketing agreement. Those cars are no-cost to the airline and add a marketing glow to the airline

  13. In August I took an “a’la carte” Jaguar XF ride to my flight at Wroclaw Airport, Poland. 178 PLN (~45 USD), Executive Lounge included. Highly recommended! 😉

    Keeping that in mind, I can totally relate to your “once in a lifetime” enthusiasm!

  14. @Kent – agreed, the Cayenne is a better choice, easier to get in and out of.

    Also, while not entirely releveant here, the Panamera is stupidly ugly. Why anyone would pay that money for such a minger is beyond me. I’d still happily ride in one for free, though.

  15. We been lucky to get Larry in ATL 3 times on short connections in the past and it’s a great perk when you get off the plane and see someone standing there with your name on a iPad. He wouldn’t accept a tip but on our second ride wife does charity work and so we donated money there. It was a win-win for everybody

  16. Back in the day when Delta had me convinced that the shortest distance between two cities was via Atlanta I had a few Porsche rides. I am American CK now. The problem is it’s totally sporadic and random and not a perk if you cant rely upon it.

  17. Nice perk – From memory United has a similar program with Mercedez shuttles. Sounds like American needs to step in – oh might I suggest a Ken Block piloted Monster/American co-branded Ford in full opposite lock from gate to gate. I would immediately fly only American for that!

  18. Being Diamond isn’t always a requirement. I’m only a Silver member, but I received this treatment at MSP last week. The Delta rep who drove me around informed me that if they don’t have any Diamond members to drive around they will look for other passengers in danger of missing connections and help them out as well.

  19. At LAX, I constantly see the cars…like at least 50% of the time as the plane pulls up to the gate, maybe more. I’ve never been offered the service, but my friend did get it connecting in ATL just before NYE last year. She was flying with her dad (Diamond) and was drunk from the flight, so FaceTimed me from the car so I could ride along with them 🙂

  20. This is indeed an elusive service. I have Diamond status since 2012 and I only got to experience this once at SFO when flying from SLC-SFO-PVG. I did not even have a tight connection (roughly an hour and a half).

  21. As we were waiting to deplane in Seattle to pick up our connecting flight to Shanghai, I had struck up a brief conversation with the guy who was Diamond Medallion and was on our flight.

    The Delta representative boarded the plane to surprise the guy and take him to the connecting flight which was a 20 minute walk and we had about 30 minutes to board. The guy and he asked if we could go along. She said “Sure!”

    Was a great surprise and I doubt we’ll ever have that experience again!

  22. I’ve been a Diamond for the last ten years, and with almost 2M miles. I didn’t know about this program until a few weeks ago when I got annointed at Sea-Tac. What a great surprise! With all of the negativity about airlines, you have to hand it to Delta! If I never get it again, I’ll still be very appreciative of their efforts. Go Delta!!!

  23. I fly AA from JFK to LAX, only Gold status, I fly First Class. I’ve been driven almost every time. No reason. It’s a funny joke, because I’ve become friendly with one of the woman in the lounge. I wonder if that’s why?

  24. Recently received this service at SEA. Met at end of jet bridge by nice fella with my name on an iPad. For those saying Cayenne would be better, that’s what they used for my treat. Mine wasn’t for tight connection but because I had a late layover at S gates and the S SkyClub was closed, he drove me over to the A SkyClub. Was very impressed that Delta did this for me, and made me feel just a bit better about the two transpacific and one transatlantic trips I’d done in the 2 months prior to my Porsche adventure.

  25. @Tom: Why Porsche? You should do your homework. I can guarantee you Delta does not pay a penny for those cars. It is about marketing. Delta offers that service to their top customers and many of those customers can afford to own a Porsche. Thus, by providing them with the opportunity to be on a Porsche will increase the chances they will go to a dealer and buy a car. Delta gets the car to offer the service and Porsche gets the customers to buy their cars. Also, Porsche NA HQ is based in Atlanta. Thus, it is an easy choice for them to partner with Delta. Those cars probably don’t get too many miles on them since they are only driven inside the airport so once a year they are probably replaced by new models and Porsche sells them as CPO.

  26. I’ve has several and they are a delight to say the least most recently last week at SLC when we would have otherwise surely missed our connecting flight after a hellacious day. Loved it!

  27. Steph, you say your Diamond elite status with Delta is expiring, do you mean you are going to switch loyalty to another airline?

  28. Happened once at DTW with a really tight connection in the process you described. Porsche Cayanne with my son and I. Was a great approach to show value in the dedication I’ve made to fly Delta so many years. Great idea they have and should continue with these special perks.

  29. Am a DM and have been for 5 years. Used to fly every month and always in paid First. Never a ride. However last summer I bought an AF First Class sale fare and was treated to their car service on the tarmac. I must say, they do it right. It was a treat to be picked up in their BMW or Jag, to go down the stairs and up the stairs on the jet bridge. To be driven straight to the First Class lounge and never enter customs. It is truly a seamless service. So if I got a ride with Delta, it would be a treat, but thankfully I have had the real thing already.

  30. @Justin

    AA = Cadillac
    UA = Mercedes
    DL = Porsche

    Each has a respective airline-auto marketing agreement. (In other words, AA already has such a program for CK/5*. You recall correctly about UA for GS/VIP).

  31. I got the ride a few years ago in SEA, despite never having Delta Diamond in my life. I had a connection with a very late inbound international flight, so maybe that helped in addition to having some sort of Delta status (probably Platinum back then).

  32. I am a DL 360. I’ve had the Porsche service twice in 2 years both times I had plenty of time and didn’t need it but loved it. I have had a TON of tight connections and never gotten it, only when I didn’t need it.

  33. My GF and I got a Porsche pickup at SEA on our way to AMS after a delay in SFO. This was all as a lowly Silver medallion traveling on a Delta One award trip. It was incredible and we would have absolutely missed our connection without it.

    I’m a United 1K and have yet to experience the level of service I did on Delta that day.

  34. I love how you “Geek” out on being on the tarmac! The jet bridge stair height is 5″ on a 737/319-20. Count yourself lucky not to have had to climb higher as the steps adjust for the 757/321 & WBs. Good thing you didn’t have stilettos! I’ve seen feet come out of shoe when this happens!

  35. Hi Steph: I don’t live in the US and I’ve never even flewn DL, so most of your posts aren’t relevant for me. But they are such a joy to read, I always read each and every one of them from beginning till end (in contrast to many other posts despite more relevant content). Very glad you joined OMAAT, keep up the great work!

  36. You can also pay for it,Pricing: ATL PRICING PER AIRPORT MEET: One Person: $350 | Two People: $425 | Each Additional Person: $125

    JFK, LAX, LGA, DTW, MSP, SLC, SEA & SFO PRICING PER AIRPORT MEET: One Person: $250 | Two People: $325 | Each Additional Person: $125

    LAX PRICING PER MEET WITH OFF-AIRPORT VEHICLE TRANSFER: One Person: $350 | Two People: $425 | Each Additional Person: $125

    not cheap.

  37. Fun and enjoyable article! I’ve never got such a ride, but i did get to ride in the circa-1975 mobile lounge / plane mate at IAD last week

  38. You should status match to Alaska. They’ll give it to you for a year. AS has two direct flights from Boston to SFO. While not exactly Hartford, with the amount of time you’d save not connecting in MSP, time difference would turn out a wash…. and four flights a day from JFK to SFO, where they have a new pretty cool AS lounge…. And, their transcon fares are rather cheap.

  39. I sadly bypassed a Porsche ride in SEA without realizing it. I was sitting next to a deadheading pilot on the inbound, and he sat near me on the outbound, and asked why I didn’t take the ride? Turns out I was so worried about the plane-train connection that I bolted off the inbound and didn’t notice they had a tablet with my name on it! Doh!

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