Monday, July 14, 2008

The Airline Mess — Up Close and Personal

Because of the automotive writing I do, I travel somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 miles annually. So for me to say I recently had one of the worst travel experiences in all of my years, is saying something

My preferred airline over the years has always been Delta, and I'm a Delta Gold Medallion Level Frequent Flyer. I have been both a Delta customer — and stockholder — of both the "old" and "new" stock. That preference as always been based on the extreme level of customer service Delta has always provided — no matter what the situation. In my mind, Delta's people gave them a competitive edge, and even through all of the financial difficulties it experienced, I remained a loyal Delta flyer.

Not any more...

I was booked First Class from Seattle to Atlanta on June 29 on a 7:55 a.m. flight. I arrived at the ticket counter 50 minutes before my flight, and spent approximately 20 minutes as the "next" person in the First Class/Medallion line waiting to check one bag. While I waited, three people fooled around with the computer trying to resolve an issue for the person in front of me. No one else offered to wait on me. When I finally did get waited on, I was told my bag couldn't be accepted because I had missed the 30-minute window for baggage check. I asked the official time, and was told I had missed it by LESS THAN ONE MINUTE!

When I pointed out that I had been there in plenty of time, and missed this through no fault of my own, I was told, "We're sorry, there's nothing we can do." I asked about a gate check of my bag since it wasn't going to fit in an overhead bin, and couldn't be carried on, and was told that wouldn't be possible. When asking why not, the representative snapped, “Because it isn't."

Excuse me? This had been done for me several times previously, so why not now?

So asking, What do I do now?" I was told they could book me on the next flight, which was four hours later, but no First Class seats were available. There were First Class seats on the flight after that, but it didn't get in to Atlanta until almost midnight.

In trying to resolve the issue, I asked to see a supervisor. Although I physically could see her, it took almost 15 minutes of her joking around with other employees before she could be bothered to walk the 25 feet to see what my problem was. After telling her my story, and saying I believed I should be on my original flight. She just said, "Sorry, that's not going to happen. What do you want to do? Are you going to take the next flight we have or not, because I don't have time to waste on you."

What struck me right between the eyes at that very moment was how absolutely RUDE every single person I dealt with was. The "old" Delta people would have figured out some way for me to get on my original flight. These folks could care less if I ever got on any flight — or if I ever fly Delta again.

I elected to take the next flight, which left 4 hours later, sitting in Row 37 instead of 3. While I was not happy with the situation, or the attitude of the people I was dealing with, I had little choice since I also had a 4-hour drive ahead of me after leaving Atlanta, and getting there at 7 p.m. was better than midnight.

When I asked about a refund of the difference in fares, I was told none would be forthcoming. I made an issue of this and finally was granted a refund of somewhere near $300. But if I hadn't insisted on it in such a strong manner, that wouldn't have happened.

However, as luck would have it, taking the second flight — the one with a First Class seat available — might have had a better outcome. Upon approaching Atlanta, we were told there was a weather problem and we circled for approximately an hour until we became short on fuel and were diverted to Huntsville, Alabama.

Now I understand weather is beyond Delta’s control. However, the completely unacceptable situation at Huntsville wasn't. Upon our arrival, we sat on the tarmac for well over an hour. It was hot, and the passengers were not asked if they wanted any water once we were on the ground. No information on our situation was forthcoming from the cockpit either. The Captain finally came on the intercom and informed us that there were no gates available, and even if there were, they couldn't accommodate our particular aircraft.

Didn't anyone think about this BEFORE sending us to Huntsville? DUH!!!

Long story short, we finally got fueled and on our way almost 3 hours after we got there.

Upon arriving in Atlanta at somewhere near 11:30 p.m., we were told our luggage would take approximately an hour to arrive. It never did get listed on the board in baggage claim telling us what carousel it would be on. It was almost 1 a.m. by the time I got my bag.

All this aggravation over less than one minute in Seattle.

But it gets worse. I felt very strongly that it would be unsafe for me to begin a 4-hour drive at 1 a.m., after getting up at 4 a.m. the previous day to embark on this fiasco.

I called Delta Special Member Services and said I believed Delta should provide a hotel room for me — something they had done several times previously over the years in similar situations. The representative laughed out loud. She told me to go to Customer Service at the airport and take it up with them. When I went past the desk in the concourse, there were approximately 200 (no exaggeration) people in line, and I was already in Baggage Claim when were talking, which would have meant trying to go through security with no valid boarding pass. I know better than that.

I asked her to call and see what could be done. She refused, saying there was no way for her to reach anyone in the airport. I know this was a lie, as it has been done for me in the past. I asked what would happen if I got in my car and got in an accident. She said, “I guess you’ll just have to sue us.”

After almost 20 minutes, she apparently got tired of talking to me and just hung up. However, she did suggest I get a room and turn the cost in for a reimbursement. I did so, and that was rejected in a very condescending, cut and paste response from a Jerry P. Brown, from a department — that I can only think must be an inside joke — called "Customer Care."

So here I am, in Atlanta, at 1 a.m., tired, hungry, highly annoyed, with a 4-hour drive ahead of me, and getting absolutely NO satisfaction out of Delta, but a LOT of rudeness and attitude — which began at a little after 7 the previous morning.

The return trip was almost as bad — but not quite — 2+ hour delay in Atlanta. While a weather-related delay is understandable and is one of those things beyond Delta's control, again, the rude treatment the customers received is not.

We could not get the Delta personnel at the gate to give us a reason for the delay or any kind of expected departure time. They just kept extending it on the board behind the desk, but didn't even bother to update the screen above the boarding line. When asked what was going to happen and why things were like they were, the woman manning the desk simply ignored us as if we weren't even there.

At one point, she did make some kind of an announcement, but it was competing with another announcement being made in the concourse, so no one could understand what she said. Myself and a couple of other passengers went to the desk, told her this, and requested she do it again. She simply shrugged her shoulders and said. "That's the way it goes."
That's crap — but seems to be the way the "New Delta" is being run. 
Upon calling Special Member Services and asking for information since none was forthcoming at the desk, I was put on hold while the representative said she would call the airport and ask. Now remember, I was told by Special Member Services when I called from Baggage Claim on arrival they couldn't do that. So who is lying here? When she returned to the line, she informed me my flight was in the boarding process. We didn't board for almost another hour.

At this point, I am much more than an unhappy customer, and am not someone who is satisfied with a condescending, cut and paste, insulting response that attempts to make all this my problem. So part of the solution to me, is using this forum to make you all aware of what you might expect if you fly Delta.
You've been warned...

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