Delta Airlines: Actions, Attitude and Accountability

photoThe Lifestylist Brands are flourishing! As part of that growth we are spending a lot more time on the road speaking, helping clients design new products and listening to what consumers want. One of the biggest issues consumers talk about is customer service, and how brands treat them and earn (or lose) their business.

I fly Southwest Airlines every chance I get, but unfortunately they don't fly to every city I need to get to... yet. They are so efficient, and their rules make sense. No penalties for changing your flight (huge advantage for a business traveler) everyone gets two free bags so you don't waste time when you are boarding with people carrying huge bags and trying to stow them. Plus everyone always has a great attitude and they have never left me at the gate with a connection.

When I can't fly Southwest I fly Delta, mostly because of their purchase of Northwest I am almost a million miler which I keep thinking will get me better service but lately, not so much. For the third time this year Delta left me at the gate - twice when my connection was the last flight of the day - and every time I was there minutes before the flight was due to depart.

This last time though broke the record for customer service misses, and what was the most apparent was that their lack of interest in helping customers starts at the top.

I had a great meeting in Holland Michigan last week with ODL - an amazing company that is so forward thinking in their building products I'm always excited to see that they are working on. I am very conscious about getting the best rates for my travel so I can keep my expenses down for my clients, and in typical Delta logic it was almost $500.00 more to fly to Detroit instead of Kalamazoo even though to get to Kalamazoo I had to fly through Detroit. I was on the last flight going there and saw that weather was coming so I called Delta and offered to take an earlier flight so I didn't get stuck overnight in Detroit. To confirm ahead of time they wanted yet another $500.00 even though I was changing it the same day, but if I wanted to go standby they would charge me $50.00. All of this because I was worried about making it to my destination on the day I needed to get there.

I paid the $50.00, got on the earlier flight and was told I was confirmed on my connection but needed to wait for my seat assignment. That was fine, but when I got to Detroit the gate agent got miffed with me because I went up to the gate and asked her about it so she made sure that I had to wait and be the very last person to board - she even let non-rev people clear and board before I did. She made her point - don't ever ask a Delta gate agent for help. I did make it to my destination, had great meetings and thought it would be smooth sailing for the rest of my trip.

Wednesday was a rainy Michigan day and I arrived in plenty of time for my Kalamazoo flight and it showed being on time so I thought I'd be in great shape to get back to Dallas and make my meeting at 7am on Thursday to install 4 more Lifestylist Designed homes - I told you it was a busy week! We boarded the flight, door closed and we get that ominous announcement - Detroit was on ground hold so we would be sitting in Kalamazoo for at least 30 minutes. That's when I started to get nervous - I had about an hour between flights, and I was sitting in an exit row and looked over and saw some of the wall of the plane was missing and there were ropes and carribeaners sticking out. I brought it to the attention of the flight attendent who said it was nothing to worry about - it was just an old plane. Very comforting.

We finally took off and got to Detroit, and I had 40 minutes to make it to my Dallas flight which was in a completely different terminal, and at the end of that one. The flight attendant thought I was crazy to worry about the fact that I was worried about making my connection, and assured me that the other gate knew I was coming and would wait. Considering the Dallas flight was the last one that night and I had all of these people waiting for me first thing in the morning and flights had left without me twice this year I was worried. Then it took almost 10 minutes for someone to get a ramp up to us and let us depart, and as soon as I got off I started sprinting to my gate. After falling twice because I was running so fast and was terrified of not making it I arrived 6 minutes before the scheduled departure time. Door closed, not an agent in sight I started pounding on the door to let them know I was there. The plane was there and still connected to the ramp so there was no reason I couldn't get on except there wasn't an agent to let me on. The people by the plane saw and heard me, I stopped Delta agents and Red Coats (the Delta Customer Service Supervisors) but no one would get in touch with the agent to let me board. As I was banging on the door 3 more customers came up - all with the same story. They were on a delayed connection, promised that the plane would wait for them, and it was still before the departure time but we all watched as the plane pulled away and our hopes of making it to our destinations dimmed as the lights of the plane did. Irony? If the airport was on ground hold why wasn't this flight delayed like every other on in Detroit? They left from the gate early, and waited on the tarmac probably at least 15 minutes -minutes that could have been used to let us in the flight and to our destinations.

When the agent finally came out she said they were aware that all of us were coming, but Delta corporate in Atlanta made the decision to leave without us. What I found out later is that Delta is heck bent on improving their on time departure ratings so if that means leaving customers behind, that's the way it goes. The agent said there wasn't a thing she could do and that was that. I immediately asked for a red coat to help all of us and about 10 minutes later, red coat agent Cane sauntered up - obviously finding no urgency in our situation. he said that yes Atlanta was aware that this was the last flight and that we would all be stranded but they didn't want to "inconvenience" the other passengers. What that inconvenience would be I have no idea because they still would have made it to Dallas probably on time. If I was on that plane and asked if it was OK that we were delayed 5 minutes so others could get home I'd say absolutely -we road warriors are in this together.

I asked if there was any way we could get to or close to Dallas that night - connections, red eye flights, through Atlanta, and he said the best he could do was put us up in a hotel and get us on a flight we we would arrive at 9:46. I employ veterans that count on me to help them feed their families and pay their mortgages - by me arriving in Dallas around 10am, waiting for my luggage and arriving at The Home Idea Factory it would have been impossible to get to our jobsite in Tyler in time to get the 4 houses done that I had a commitment to the builder to complete in time for the home show that started the next day that he had spent thousands of dollars to be part of.Delta wasn't only making me lose money, they were costing everyone who I made promises to large amounts of money as well as hurting my credibility with my clients.

What really broke my heart though is when Don, one of the other passengers who was left behind started to tear up and told Cane that he was flying on a bereavement fare because he was traveling to a funeral of a family member and if he arrived at 9:46 he would miss the funeral of the loved one he was flying to. I again pleaded with Cane to find us a solution as he gave us our hotel and meal vouchers and a travel voucher (much less than what the flight cost me or what they would have charged me to change my flight to Detroit) and sent us on our way.

As I was walking to the Sky Club - another service I pay Delta dearly for - I walked past a Delta flight to Tulsa OK that had not left and would get us into Tulsa at 10pm which would give me option to drive the 5 hours to Dallas but at least I'd be there for my crew by 7am. I hobbled back to find Don (my knees were bleeding from when I fell) and we both got on the flight to Tulsa and managed to make it back to Dallas by morning. I got to chat to Don some and found out his wife died 10 days ago and her brother had a massive heart attack and passed away, and Don's kids and family members were waiting in Dallas so they could all mourn together. He said it meant so much to him that people made such an effort to attend his wife's funeral he was going to do what he could to to the same. It broke my heart that he was going through all of this, but I was thankful that I did make the effort and found a way to get him to his family.

Now the real irony - after finding a one way rental for over $300, driving until 4:30am, loading a truck full of 4 houses of furniture then driving 2 more hours to Tyler and staging these homes I wasn't too worried about my luggage - I was worried about honoring my commitments. When I finally got home and started trying to track down my luggage I learned that amazingly Delta managed to get my luggage on the flight that they wouldn't let me get on and it was waiting for me at DFW. When I asked for them to deliver it (it's an hours drive to DFW from my home and I couldn't think about driving another mile at that point) I was told that I missed my flight - it was my problem and I'd have to come and pick it up. When I asked for a supervisor they put me through to Aaron who proudly told me he was the Floor Manager of Baggage Operations at Delta Corporate in Atlanta and no matter who I talked to - even though by this point I was exhausted and crying - they would not deliver my bag. They were no exceptions as to why you miss a flight connection - it's your fault. After spending a few hours after I got some sleep the next day and trying to find a phone number for DFW baggage claim, a guardian angel named Connie in Dallas said she had my bag and why hadn't I picked it up? I told her the entire story and she said of course they would deliver my bag to me and got it heading my way within 30 minutes.

The moral of this long story? Customers have choices and our actions, attitudes and accountability will continue to affect who customers do business with. Don and I had two choices I found out later and did a little bit of research - there was the Tulsa option and there also happened to be a later Atlanta flight we could have been on, spent the night in Atlanta and gotten on the first flight out of Atlanta which would have gotten Don to his funeral in time and I would have been minutes instead of hours late for my client. Obviously Cane didn't even look or care.

Have you had problems like this flying with Delta or other airlines? Have there been some heroes who went above and beyond to help you get where you needed to be? We want to hear your stories and share them with other travelers here and on our Lifestylist Travel site. Email them to us at and we'll share the best and the worst to help you make better decisions in the future.

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