Update (Aug. 16, 2019): After publication of this story, The Washington Post reported that Vincent Peone exaggerated his experience flying solo in a Delta aircraft. The airline on Wednesday said the flight Peone was on never took off. Adweek reached out to Peone to ask why he misled outlets, and he responded: “I wanted to keep the experience positive. There’s a ton of negative content surrounding fly [sic]. That’s not the kind of story I wanted to tell.”
Adweek’s original post:
When Vincent Peone arrived at the airport gate for his evening flight out of Aspen last week, something was off. The terminal was silent, eerily empty.
He soon learned why.
The Delta Diamond Medallion-status flyer—who claims to know a few airport bartenders by name—got to live the dream of every air traveler: having a plane all to himself.
Peone, a director and owner of the production company ArtClass Content, tweeted a video of his solo flight aboard Sky West Airlines, a regional affiliate of Delta, from the Colorado town to Salt Lake City. After being escorted to the plane and posing for a photo on the stairs, he got name-checked during the safety demonstration—the sole passenger with empty row after row stretching behind him.
According to EvoJets’ Charter Flight Cost Calculator, a private plane from Aspen to Salt Lake City starts at $4,800, with seats for up to nine people.
Why it made sense for Delta to fly with just one passenger
The flight was a bit of an accident, he told Adweek. Peone, who was ultimately heading to New York City, had been scheduled to fly out of Aspen/Pitkin County Airport earlier that morning, but his flight was canceled. He rebooked for that evening and spent the day hiking Maroon Bells in the Elk Mountains with his Colorado-based family.
When he returned that evening to board the flight, he was met with a personal announcement from the gate staff. “Will the only passenger on this flight kindly board at this time—Mr. Peone?” the attendant asked in the video.
The solo flight was a first for Peone, who estimates that he flies four to six times a month for business. Having made commercials for brands including NBA, Vogue and Geico, the director knew a viral moment when he saw one.
A spokesperson with Delta said Peone’s flight was “fairly rare,” though flights with only a handful of passengers happen more frequently.
Despite what may seem like a waste of jet fuel, the Delta rep said the flight would have left regardless as it would be needed for additional routes out of the airline’s Salt Lake City hub.
“The reality is that we still have a responsibility to operate that flight,” the spokesperson said. “We’re happy to do it for a Diamond Medallion holder, but we’re also happy to do it for anyone else.”
“It’s all about the network” for Delta
In 2018, Delta flights were about 85.5% full on average, according to Seth Kaplan, an aviation expert and co-author of the book Glory Lost and Found: How Delta Climbed from Despair to Dominance in the Post-9/11 Era.
Delta said the Aspen-SLC route is typically flown with a Bombardier CRJ700 aircraft that, depending on the seating arrangement, can fly up to 63 passengers in first class and coach, according to SeatGuru.
A coach ticket for a Delta flight from Aspen to Salt Lake City is $288.30. If the plane had been full, that’s potential revenue of at least $18,162.90.
Kaplan estimated the flight would cost “tens of thousands of dollars at least” to operate between the fuel and pilots. But considering the rest of Delta’s flight schedule, the cost of canceling would have been greater than what was lost on Peone’s solo journey.
“When you’re looking at an airline like Delta, it’s all about the network,” he said. “[Delta] as an airline are obsessed with not canceling flights. … For them, that’s an important principle.”
Kaplan cites that as the reason why Delta’s net profit for 2018 was $1.4 billion more than competitors United and American Airlines.
Peone spent the flight, which lasted about an hour, in first class with a tequila soda in hand. He said the drink was complimentary, and that during the flight he chatted with the flight attendants, swapping family stories.
“It’s one of those things that felt like a special moment that needed to be documented,” he said.
Besides the thrill of going viral, Peone hopes his video will score him one more benefit: access to Delta’s invite-only service tier: “I’ve always wanted to be Delta 360—maybe this is my in.”