Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Delta's Delay Game

The vacation went great. In just 4 days, we relaxed, listened to good music at an outdoor concert, toured Yellowstone, and enjoyed time with some friends. In short, we were ready to get back to home and work with renewed energy. On Monday, Delta snatched those pleasant feelings, wadded them up into a little round ball, ripped them into pieces, and tossed the pieces into the fire.

Upon arrival at the airport for the first of two flights, everything went perfectly. In just 15 minutes, we made it through ticketing and security. The plane boarded on time as expected, but shortly before take-off, the pilot announced a mechanical problem.

Great...they had us. We were already on board the aircraft with the doors shut, and as I've experienced so many times before, they started playing the delay game. Every 15 minutes, there was a new announcement promising more information in 15 more minutes. Finally, after over an hour of that little game, they took us off the plane citing identification of the problem but no local availability for the part required to fix it.

In the terminal, the gate agent rudely refused to answer questions and told us to go to ticketing. What did that mean?'ve got it...another trip through security and an extremely long line.

After an hour of standing in line with no progress, I noticed others using their cell phones to check on flights. Worried about waiting for the line, I did the same. To my surprise, I found 2 tickets to our final destination late enough that we could make the connection. We had been traveling on 3 tickets with our child, but he was still young enough to sit on our laps.

The agent booked the flight for me amidst several 2-5 minute stints on hold. Once all was said and done, I asked about a refund for my son's ticket that we wouldn't be using on the second leg of our trip. Believe it or not, HE SAID NO. The reason? Get this...if my son used a seat on the first leg of the trip, they would have to bill us for the entire trip.

Huh? Come again? That didn't sit too well with me, and I let him know about it.

After 10 minutes on hold this time (you think he was trying to get rid of me?), he came back and said that if my son ended up not using a seat on the second flight, they would refund us an appropriate amount for that leg of the trip.

So, it looked like everything would turn out well. We would end up getting home about 9 hours late, but we would still get home and avoid having to spend the night somewhere.

When our first flight arrived, we hurried to the gate for the second flight (even though we had 3 hours to wait) so we could get boarding passes and make sure we were on the flight. Everything went perfectly, and we had boarding passes immediately upon reaching the gate.

Now for the wait...with a 1 year old, 3 hours in a place where he can't get on the floor because it's so filthy can be quite challenging. We used Nemo, piggy-back rides, food, and anything else we could think of to keep him entertained until he fell asleep.

Finally, it was boarding time. No sooner had the crowd began to gather than the gate agent popped up a delay and made an announcement. ANOTHER MECHANICAL PROBLEM!

In the 3 hours we had been at the airport, I had heard about one other flight with a mechanical problem but strangely never heard more than one announcement. It was obvious what had happened...Delta stole our plane to service an earlier flight. In fact, the stewardess later confirmed it for me when we finally boarded the plane.

After being promised the plane would board in 15 minutes, a new gate agent arrived and promptly shifted the delay out another 30 minutes. After one more delay, the plane boarded and we arrived home at 9:00 pm. Our original arrival time was 12:15 pm.

Delta is no different than any other airline. They play the delay game to keep the seats full and avoid giving refunds. At 13 hours, we could have rented a car and been within a few hours of home if Delta had told us about the mechanical problem during ticketing for our initial departure. That's what they don't want you to do so they keep you captive by keeping you on the plane and/or by promising you an answer in 15 or 30 minute increments. We played their game this time...we'll see how cooperative I am next time.

As a side note, Delta pilots, mechanics, and stewardesses should be commended for a fine job on both of these flights. Delta should realize that these people are the lifeblood of their organization and stop trying to cut costs with their salaries. Instead, they should look to the executives first and the gate agents, ticket counter staff, and call center representatives second. The executives put in place rules for handling delays that keep people on planes and minimize refunds, and the customer service agents enforce their rules knowing full well that there are better options.

I had considered becoming a DAL investor because of previous, positive experiences with the airline. DAL is now coming off of my watch list permanently.


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