Delta First in the Air

Leading the Industry 

1925 Huff Daland Dusters, which formed the roots for Delta, founded in Macon, Ga. It was the world's first aerial crop-dusting company. For more information, see Founding.

1945 Delta is first airline to fly living vegetable plants (160,000 tomato plants).

1946 Delta is first airline to fly nonstop Chicago-Miami, initially with Douglas DC-4 planes.

1946 First airline to offer gift certificates for flights. Introduces a "Gift-Trip Certificate" for Christmas season 1946.

1954 First airline to supplement visual inspection of aircraft parts with a portable x-ray machine to examine interior structures. 

1955 Delta pioneers extensive development of the hub-and-spoke system in the 1950s. Using Atlanta as a cross-connecting point, Delta expands service choices and frequencies for medium and smaller southeastern communities to distant, larger cities and each other, beyond what they could support with direct, point-to-point flights.

Arriving and departing flights were scheduled for operational efficiency in Atlanta, where passengers connected to other flights. Eastern Air Lines also began to group flights by connecting times at ATL, and by 1955, between the hours of noon and 2 p.m. — the "noon push" — Atlanta was the busiest air transfer hub in the world.

1957 First airline to begin jet training of personnel (March 12).

1959 Delta is first airline to launch Douglas DC-8 jet service.

1959 First airline to offer complimentary meals on discounted coach flights.

1960 First airline to launch Convair 880 jet service

1961 Flies first nonstop service from Atlanta to Los Angeles.

1961 Delta links California and the Caribbean with first jet service from California to Montego Bay and Caracas.

1962 A Delta DC-8 is the first commercial plane to fly Los Angeles-Atlanta in less than 3 hours (02:57:11). 

1965 Delta is first airline to launch Douglas DC-9 service.

1966 Delta is first with Lockheed L-100 Hercules all-cargo planes.

1973 First airline to simultaneously operate three of the first generation wide-bodies jets—the L-1011, Douglas DC-10 and Boeing 747.

1975 First airline to offer its own air express service, a new high priority, guaranteed cargo service called Delta Air Express.

1979 First airline in the world to board one million passengers in one city in one month (Atlanta in the month of August).

1980 First airline to make a major move from film to video in-flight entertainment, equipping its entire transatlantic L-1011 fleet in the early 1980s.

1983 First major U.S. carrier to meet new federal standards reducing flyover noise in airport neighborhoods.

1988 Delta is the first major airline to recognize children with a program just for them. Upon boarding, children (ages 2-12) receive a Disney character visor, activity magazine and enrollment card for Delta’s Fantastic Flyer program. Members are mailed a quarterly magazine, posters, patches and stickers. Dusty, the Delta Air Lion mascot, sends annual birthday cards and replies to letters. Onboard, special children’s meals and Pawberry Punch, a blend of apple, grape and cherry juices, are available.

1991 Delta is first to offer MD-11 jet service in U.S.

1991 First online aircraft maintenance information system in the airline industry, called Technical Operations Publishing System (TOPS). 

1992 First U.S. airline with moving maps in the cabin showing aircraft’s position and route.

1993 Delta Connection is the first program to use regional jets in North America.

1993 First airline to publish business events immediately throughout its enterprise, such as passenger checking in, bag being scanned at each point of its travel, a flight pulls out from the gate, or a flight arrives. Hundreds of millions of events that happen every day are shared via Delta's Digital Nervous System (DNS).

1993 First airline with Web-based access to real-time flight operations and passenger information, including the first Flight Diverted displays that show actual locations of diverted flights, particularly critical during the U.S. air traffic grounding after terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. 

1994 First airline to install Gate Informational Display Screens (GIDS) in airports, made possible by the development of Delta's DNS in 1993. 

1994 Introduces Rapid Redemption, the airline industry's first program allowing frequent flyers to instantly redeem mileage for free tickets or upgrades.

1994 First airline with extensive use of robotic technology for handling cargo when Delta's new international cargo building opened in Atlanta. Cargo was automatically weighed, stored, retrieved and routed within the facility using 24 automated guided vehicles.

1995 First U.S. airline to fly smoke-free worldwide, when Delta banned smoking on all its flights. (Muse Air was first U.S. airline to fly smoke-free from 1982-1985; Northwest Airlines was first to ban smoking on all North American flights in 1988.)

1995 Introduces the airline industry’s first seasonal menus. See Delta NewsDigest July 14, 1995 article (PDF).

1996 Delta is the first airline to offer in-seat power.

1996 First airline to offer live broadcast television programming. See our blog post.

1997 First airline to board more than 100 million passengers in a year.

1997 First airline to offer spa cuisine, partnering with chefs from health resorts in the U.S. and Europe. See this Delta NewsDigest Nov. 7, 1997 article (PDF).

1998 Delta and SwissCargo forge the first international cargo alliance.

1998 First airline to install automatic defibrillators on board all of its aircraft.

2000 Delta enhances its Digital Nervous System (an airline "first" in 1993) with the airline industry's first commercial messaging, making it easier to send customers proactive information, such as flight changes caused by weather events.  

2000 Develops a new Customer Care system for gates and boarding processes, based on a new Cornerstone Gate Processing software application, which receives a Computerworld Smithsonian Award. The new system tracks the status of every seat on a flight, whether it is sold, reserved, if the passenger has checked in and whether they have boarded. It shortens flight boarding times and improves customer service and security. 

2003 First U.S. airline with prerecorded audio flight information at the gate.

2003 Delta’s Technical Operations in Atlanta is first in the airline industry to achieve OSHA Star status for exemplary record of occupational employee safety and health.

2004 First airline to offer mileage gift cards.

2006 Delta is National Safety Council's 2006 Occupational Industry Leader—the first airline recognized.

2006 First major airline with in-seat, on-demand movies, games and live TV on a large portion of its domestic fleet, beginning with flights between JFK and the West Coast.

2007 First U.S. airline to offer customers the opportunity to help offset carbon emissions associated with air travel.

2007 First airline with a comprehensive onboard recycling program for aluminum cans, newspapers, snack containers and water bottles.

2008 First U.S. airline to announce In-flight Wi-Fi for its domestic mainline fleet; Wi-Fi goes live on Delta Shuttle flights on December 16.

2009 Only U.S. airline (since Pan Am) to serve six continents with introduction of nonstop flights between Los Angeles and Sydney, Australia.

2010 First U.S. airline to offer real-time customer support through Twitter. Initially, six agents provided rebooking, flight information, airport details and other services through the @DeltaAssist handle. 

2010 Launches airline industry's first social media "ticket window," allowing customers to purchase tickets directly from Facebook and other social media sites. The app was decommissioned in 2012.

2010 Delta is the only U.S. airline with single-booking service for commercial and private jet service, through subsidiary Delta Private Jets.

2011 First major carrier to allow customers to track their checked bags from check-in, aircraft loading and arrival at baggage claim.

2011 First airline with mobile baggage tracking via Fly Delta app.

2011 Delta Connection offers world’s first in-flight Internet service on regional aircraft.

2012 Purchases an oil refinery, becoming first airline to produce its own jet fuel.

2013 Delta Cargo launches Logistics Manager software for real-time tracking of all freight, an industry first for passenger airlines.

Delta first to submit plan to allow customer use of portable electronic devices below 10,000 feet as early as Nov. 1 - Oct 31, 2013

2013 First to announce that customers can use their portable electronic devices below 10,000 feet on November 1. On December 9, Delta is first mainline carrier to allow PED use below 10,000 ft. to passengers traveling on mainline and regional aircraft.

2014 First U.S. airline with full flat-bed seats and direct aisle access in BusinessElite on all widebody international flights

2015 First U.S. airline to accept Apple Pay for ticket purchases via Fly Delta app.

2016 First U.S. airline to deploy Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) baggage tracking technology, providing customers with improved real-time tracking of luggage throughout the travel experience. RFID bag tags and tracking technology will replace barcode hand scanning - the industry standard since the early 1990s. 

2016 First U.S. airline to make in-flight entertainment free for all passengers on domestic flights.

2016 Real-time bag tracking via the Fly Delta mobile app. Customers now have a map view of their bag's last scanned location, tapping on pins and a suitcase icon to follow their bag's journey and to access text information about the location of their bag. Delta was the first airline to offer this level of visibility. 

2016  Delta’s Flight Weather Viewer app provides pilots with real-time graphics of turbulence observations and forecasts on the flight deck. Setting Delta’s app apart from similar technology, the data is customized by aircraft type and is available in real time via Gogo’s in-flight Wi-Fi network, instead of through the traditional ACARS digital datalink system in place since the late 1970s.

2016 First U.S. airline to offer a spa at its airport lounge (Seattle in October, then New York-JFK in December)

2017 Opens first biometric self service bag drop in the U.S. Four self service machines at Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) allow customers to check their own bags; one of the machines is used to test facial recognition technology to match customers with their passport photos through identification verification, a first for U.S. carriers. 

2017 First U.S. airline to offer video chat with a Reservations team.

2017 First U.S. airline with an all-suite business class. The Delta One Suite with a closing door is introduced on the Airbus A350.

2017 First U.S. airline to fly the Airbus A350.

2018 Delta launches first biometric terminal in the U.S., in partnership with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), at Maynard H. Jackson International Terminal (Terminal F) in Atlanta. Customers flying direct to an international destination have the option of using facial recognition technology from curb to gate: kiosk check-in, checked baggage, TSA checkpoint identification, boarding flights in Terminal F and CBP processing for international travelers arriving into the U.S. 

2018 Delta is the first U.S. passenger airline to provide real-time tracking for all shipping containers, called unit load devices (ULDs). New Bluetooth tracking technology replaces manual tracking of ULDs that move cargo shipments, baggage and mail globally.

2019 First airline to use Apple's Messages app with customers for on-the-go assistance. Apple Business Chat test rolls out to select customers in June, and integrates into the Fly Delta app for all customers in Fall 2019.

2019 First U.S. passenger airline to offer 24/7 door-to-door parcel delivery nationwide with Delta Cargo's DASH Door-to-Door service.

2020 Delta launches innovative solution for pet travel with CarePod, a state-of-the-art pet travel carrier with many industry-leading features including real-time updates for customers throughout the journey and the world's first built-in hydration system for pet travel carriers.

2020 First airline to explore first-of-its-kind wearable robotic exoskeleton to bolster employee strength and safety.

2020 First U.S. airline to fly with cargo on the main deck of the aircraft by removing the seats of a Boeing 777-220ER, thus enabling more than 10,000 pounds of additional cargo capacity – an increase of more than 35% more weight per flight. The cargo carried included medical and PPE equipment, pharmaceuticals, home office supplies, U.S. mail and food during the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

2023 First major U.S. airline to introduce fast, free Wi-Fi for all, in partnership with T-Mobile. The experience was available on most domestic mainline aircraft as of Feb. 1, with full availability on international and regional aircraft by the end of 2024.

Delta postcard, DC-6 flying over Miami Beach, 1948
Smoke free airline ad 1994
Boeing 767-300 seatback in-flight entertainment 2007
Australia ad 2009
A350-900-MSN115-Delta-take off-005