Our Adventures Flying With Delta

Coming back from New Orleans, we were booked for a 10:30am flight to JFK in New York, with a very short layover (40 minutes) to get to our connecting flight to Syracuse, where our car awaited for the final leg of the journey, a 3-hour drive. Our itinerary even said "You may miss this flight" beside the second leg of the trip, a bad sign from the start.

When they announced over the airport intercom that the flight out of New Orleans was delayed, I approached the counter at the gate and asked the Delta employee if there was anything we should do. She said there was no way we'd make our connecting flight, as the earliest we'd be arriving was exactly 1 minute before our next flight left, at which point the door on the departing plane would already be closed.

So here started the crazy chain events where we witnessed customer service at both extremes of the spectrum. First a Delta employee asked me what my checked bag looked like, took my baggage claim tag and ran down the jetway to the plane, where she found a baggage handler who actually went into the cargo hold of the plane to look for my bag so that it wouldn't end up at JFK without me.

Meanwhile the counter employee, who we shall call Maggie (not her real name but I do have the real names of those involved if Delta reads this and would like them) started working on alternate arrangements for us. The first option that came up was Syracuse via Laguardia, but arriving past 11pm. With a 3-hour drive ahead of us after we landed, that option was not attractive as everyone had to work the next day. She understood and kept looking. She wasn't coming up with any other options, so she asked if there was another city nearby that would be acceptable. After discussing, we figured 3 of us could fly to Ottawa directly, and I'd go to Syracuse regardless of arrival time and drive back by myself. (If I flew to Ottawa, I would have to get someone to drive me to Syracuse to get the car and drive back, a six-hour round-trip for two people, which was obviously not ideal.) So we asked if it was possible for 3 of us to fly to Ottawa.

Since we had booked our trip in two pairs rather than a group of 4, she started trying to re-book the pair that were staying together, my brother and his wife. Maggie had issues changing the final destination from Syracuse to Ottawa because this changed the trip from domestic to international, and their system either didn't allow this or she couldn't figure out the process. After several phone calls which ended in disconnection due to technical issues, and after having to explain the situation to several different people at the other end of the line, she was finally able, with the help of someone on the other end of the line, to get the first 2 tickets rerouted to Ottawa, via a connection in Laguardia.

Maggie was then, without incident, able to change my ticket to go through Laguardia as well, so that I could at least travel part of the way with the rest of the party, and arrive in Syracuse at 11:30pm, the less-then-desirable change originally offered. (Around this time, the original employee came back up the jetway with my checked bag, which they had successfully retrieved from the cargo bay of the plane, and re-checked it to my destination, where it arrived without incident and cheerily greeted me on the baggage carousel when I arrived, full of undamaged bottles of hot sauce, pralines and a tin of Cafe Du Monde ground coffee with hickory.)

She then started working on changing my wife's ticket so that she could travel with the rest of our party via Laguardia to Ottawa, since they all had to work the next day and arriving some time after 2am would probably negate any ability for them to work, cost them each money and/or vacation days. Having the same issues with changing the flight from domestic to international, she had to call again (head office? Not sure, but it seemed to be a call center not unlike the call centres we lowly customers have to call, which seemed odd). She had to explain the whole situation yet again to whoever answered the phone (why is there not some way she can talk to the same person each time? Delta would have to explain that one). However, the person Maggie reached this time, we'll call her "Bully With A Keyboard" or BWAK for short, was not as obliging as the agent who made the change to the first pair of tickets. BWAK got belligerent and refused to help, and then hung up on her. Meanwhile, another agent who had been helping the whole time, we'll call him Mike, was working on the computer trying to make the change himself. He ended up being able to figure it out, so it appeared all was well.

However, when Maggie went to print the new tickets and boarding passes, she found that the ticket had changed again (change #2). The New Orleans-Laguardia-Ottawa itinerary was gone, replaced, seemingly magically, by a new trip via Atlanta to Syracuse. It seemed that BWAK had decided to step in, despite the fact that the issue had already been resolved to the customer's satisfaction (important words, Delta) and override Maggie and Mike's work. BWAK even put in snarky comments like "Delta is responsible for getting the passenger to Syracuse not Ottawa, no further changes to this ticket are allowed". Another note to Delta, counters at the gates are fairly open-concept, and your customers can see your employee's snarky words on the computer screens. Also apparently there is a flag called "IROP" (Irregular Operations I believe) which is set when an itinerary is messed up due to operations issues. This was the case here since this whole debacle started because of Delta's mechanical issues with their plane, then the delay involved in finding a mechanic, the time needed to fix the plane, then waiting to see if the fix "stuck" (another Delta employee's words, which were hardly comforting). The IROP flag had initially been set on our tickets because of the mechanical issues, but BWAK had also taken it upon herself to remove the IROP flag, making it even more difficult for anyone else to change the tickets.

So now it looked like my wife was stuck flying alone through Atlanta and arriving in Syracuse half an hour before me; flying through a foreign city by herself, arriving in a foreign city and waiting by herself: not what we had bargained for or agreed to at any point. But again... if this was the final result, we would have walked away and thanked Maggie and Mike for all their efforts and been grumbling about BWAK and wondering how to find out who she was and complain about her.

But it doesn't end there... again Maggie had issues printing the tickets, and when she looked again, the ticket had been changed by BWAK yet again (change #3), this time to go to Ottawa as we had originally requested, but with a note saying the customer had to pay an extra $680 for the change. Note that at this point, BWAK had made no effort to contact the customer (I had my cell phone in my hand the whole time) or the Delta employee who had been trying to help us the whole time. Maggie on several occasions actually left and walked across the terminal to go talk to a supervisor to try to get some help. At no point did any supervisor come over to help, or come to talk to us.

So now our ticket was in some sort of limbo state where we couldn't actually go anywhere unless we paid $680, which obviously we weren't going to do. But Mike and my wife had a simultaneous moment of inspiration when they realized that the ticket was now routed through Laguardia first, like the other three. He quickly tapped at the keyboard and tried to make a change to the second leg of the trip, and was able to switch it from Laguardia-Ottawa to Laguardia-Syracuse (change #4), then they manically hit a few keys to get the new tickets and boarding passes saved and printed before BWAK could change them again. So two of our party ended up flying to Ottawa and arriving past 11pm, which is still later than they would have arrived after the post-flight 3-hour drive, and 2 of us ended up arriving in Syracuse at almost midnight, driving the 3 hours afterwards, and being unable to work the next day, which was what we wanted to avoid by originally booking flights that arrived around 5pm in Syracuse.

Ultimately this was the strangest customer service experience I have ever had: while 4 Delta employees on-site were doing everything they could to accomodate the customer and let them (us) leave happy, another Delta employee who was completely anonymous and had only been asked to help with one specific action was repeatedly sabotaging things without ever communicating with the on-site employees or the affected customers, after hanging up on the one who was trying to help. I asked for the on-site employees' names so that I could send Delta an email commending them for their efforts, but now I wonder if it may backfire as these employees may have been trying to bend a rule or two in their quest to make the customer happy. Also it's worth noting that BWAK tagged her snarky notes in the ticket with "REV MGT" (Revenue Management), so obviously they were acting only in the interest of profits while the gate employees were acting in the interests of customer satisfaction. I guess we can tell which one is more important to the powers that be at Delta, despite the best efforts of their gate staff. Also the on-site employees worked on our issue, and this issue alone, for at least two and a half hours (and BWAK was sabotaging their efforts for close to an hour). Maggie and Mike probably had better things to do but they did not waver until the issue was resolved at least partially to our satisfaction, and they would have spent a lot less time on this issue if BWAK hadn't been fighting them from the minute she got involved.

Hopefully this helps you improve your system and/or customer service in the future. If only there were more employees like Maggie, Mike, and the two that helped retrieve my bag from the plane. Sure, it may occasionally result in a little less money flowing your way, but how much money does a repeat customer generate? And now I'm left in the conundrum of not being able to send a letter of praise to Delta for their on-site employees' efforts, for fear of getting them reprimanded instead. Ultimately a big fiasco that would have been mostly avoided but for the efforts of one cranky employee. I would appreciate it if Delta would track down BWAK (it shouldn't be hard if their system has even basic auditing abilities, but judging by the age of it, it may not) and have them reprimanded, but I highly doubt they would bother. And I'm sure much like the cell phone companies, for every disgruntled customer that goes to a competitor, there is one that leaves the competitor to come to them. A vicious cycle in which the unhappy customer is the fuel that keeps the fires of barely-profitable semi-satisfaction burning. No wonder airlines seem to go bankrupt so regularly.

"Thanks for a memorable day, Delta!"

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