Thursday, January 03, 2013

On (Not) Travelling on Delta Airlines between Xmas and NY

Here's a true story befalling some 200 travellers on a Delta Airlines flight from Syracuse to Atlanta on December 22. We were scheduled to depart Syracuse at 6:40 am, accordingly many travellers booked the night before into hotels in close proximity to the airport. We pretty much showed up on time, checked diligently in, even boarded the plane in a timely fashion for our 6:40 am departure. The simple reason for this was that we needed the plane to depart in a timely fashion for most of us to catch our connecting flights to our vacation destinations (or home) in Atlanta. In my case the plan was to head to Fort Lauderdale where hotel and rental car were waiting (and had to be paid regardless of whether I would make it there or not).

Well, it turned out that Delta staff had no problems letting passengers board a plane they knew full well wasn't roadworthy so to speak, given that it arrived with a broken generator the night before. So the charade began. We were stuck for about 2 ours, some fiddling with the engine, the generator, the ice and whatnot. Eventually we were kicked off the plane (could have slept a few hours longer I thought at the time). Well, an hour or two later we were herded back on to the plane only for the crew to discover further mechanical and electrical problems. an hour or so later we were again kicked off the plane.

Meanwhile Delta had ordered a bunch of junkfood items for us, muffins, bagels and tons of the cheapest pizzas available. I understand that by US airline standards that was a kind gesture, and to be fair to Delta, the food outlets at the airport in Syracuse do simply not sell healthy food items (short of overpriced fruit salads).

We waited and waited and waited, only to be eventually told that Delta was trying to get a replacement jet and crew to Syracuse. This, of course, should have happened over night, and not in a haphazard activity late afternoon on December 22. Pretty much everyone on the plane had by then missed their connecting flights, many had in fact decided to return home and forget about their holidays altogether.

Eventually, at around 5:30 pm or so the replacement plane arrived. Delta staff quickly dumped another load of pizza on us, lest it would have to provide us with cash vouchers to purchase proper dinner in Atlanta where virtually everyone was stuck for the night. We eventually departed - irony of ironies - at 6:40 pm, a full 12 hours after our scheduled departure time to Atlanta.

Some people on the plane were stuck in their quest to reach their holiday destination for up to three days in Atlanta - it goes without saying that they were not dressed for winter, yet Delta thought nothing of it to book them into airport hotels instead of nicer downtown Atlanta hotels. So there they were over the Xmas holidays, in airport hotels in Atlanta. Why? Because of Delta's incompetence. The airline knew full-well for a full night that their plane wouldn't be able to take off, yet it chose not to act on this information when it should have (namely over night). Its own ground staff in Syracuse was flabbergasted about the airline's decision not to replace the broken-down plane over night when it could and should have.

200 passengers were severely hit by this airline misconduct during their holidays. We had significant additional costs that were caused entirely by Delta's mistakes. Just to be clear, this cannot be an argument for taking out travel insurance to cover those extra costs, because the fault for these extra costs was Delta's. Why should travellers have to insure themselves against costs incurred due to airline incompetence? Delta offered a voucher of 100$ toward future flights. It goes without saying that that voucher didn't cover the actual additional expenses incurred.

Well, we arrived eventually in Atlanta and ended up receiving a voucher for a truly terrible airport hotel (the restaurant closed early - thanks Sheraton Atlanta airport hotel - despite a large queue of passengers checking in, all of whom hungry for real food after a day's worth of Delta's junk food). True to form the hotel voucher included no meals and no internet access. We continued our trip the next morning, being among the lucky ones able to continue their journey after losing only one full day of their vacation courtesy of Delta Airlines.

This has been a shocking experience, mostly because it became clear to everyone of the 200 passengers on said flight that this all would have been avoidable if Delta had acted on the problem when it should have. Delta clearly chose the course of action it thought would be cheaper, even though this would come at significant cost to about 200 of its passengers. Eventually it saved nothing at all, a replacement jet had to be send after a day's worth of fiddling with the broken equipment in Syracuse, plus there were 200 irate passengers realizing that their all-important vacation plans meant nothing to this airline, a large number of hotel rooms booked, the list goes on.

The lesson out of this all: Delta is probably not much better or worse than any other US airline, so passengers will have to accept such misconduct until these companies are better regulated. The real lesson to me: If Xmas/NY travel is avoidable at all, don't travel during that time of the year. I had two out of two trips during that time of the year stuffed up during the last 4 years. So, it's not only that airlines charge you a lot, they also often don't deliver. A pretty miserable record.

Delta's Twitter guy or girl #DeltaAssist suggested I complain with Delta's 'not my problem', aka its complaints folks. I mentioned that that likely would mean throwing good money after bad, knowing that US airlines could not care less about customer experiences. Against my better judgment I tried anyway. I  received precisely the response that you'd expect from such an outfit:

'I understand the frustration you experienced when your plans were
disrupted due to the delay of our flight for mechanical reasons causing
you to miss your connecting flight.  I can only imagine how dissatisfied
you must have been to have your travel plans disrupted at the last

Additionally, I am truly sorry you were unhappy with the Electronic
Transportation Credit Voucher (eTCV) and hotel voucher provided.  The
gesture extended was not meant to place a value on your experience;
rather it was an attempt to make amends for your disappointment with our
service.  Respectfully, additional consideration would not be due.  I
apologize, as I understand this is not the answer you were hoping to

My truly favorite line is this, 

'I want to thank you, again, for writing regarding flight
irregularity.  We appreciate your interest in our company and look
towards your future travel with us.'

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