Delta Revisited

Went to Detroit this week. It’s a lot nicer there (at least in the burbs where I was) than I thought it would be.

I flew Delta because it was the only nonstop flight option from Seattle. I bought a first class ticket, just like the last time I flew Delta.

A lot of you know my feelings on Delta, if not you can read them right here.

It’s my absolute last choice when flying. I can’t think of another business where everyone is so damned surly all the time, practically snarling at you from the first interaction at checkin all the way until you land.

I was joking with someone earlier this week about just how bad it was, saying my interactions with flight attendants basically came down to “hey asshole, you want any food?” An exaggeration, obviously. But it really does feel that way on Delta most of the time.

Anyway, today when I got to the airport the first class check-in area was pretty deserted and there were three Delta people behind computers to check people in. Doing absolutely nothing.

I stood at the front of the line area, the only person around. None of the three people were helping anyone. None made eye contact with me or asked me to walk up to them.

I asked one of them in general if they were open and if I could approach. Something like “Hi, can I check in with you?” She was about 15 feet away from me

She said “I need a couple of minutes.”

I stood there. No problem. Lots of time. A little while later she said “I can help you once you have your boarding pass and ID.”

This was from 15 feet away, and she didn’t invite me to the counter and it was sort of clear that I wasn’t to approach the counter until I had those items.

It was a little absurd, having a loud conversation from 15 feet away. And I was confused because all I wanted from her was my boarding pass.

I said “I thought I was supposed to get my boarding pass from you.”

She said “what?”

I said “I thought you were supposed to give me my boarding pass. If I already have a boarding pass what is it you do for me?”

She said “what?”

I said “it’s a little awkward talking from this far away. Can I come over to you?” Still in a good mood, finding this sort of fun and funny.

She said “Sir, I can help you once you have your boarding pass. Please stop yelling.”

Flashback to that hilarious scene from Anger Management.

So at this point I’m at the front of the check-in line at Delta. The woman who’s job it is to check me in has told me I cannot approach her area until I have my boarding pass. And we are having this absurd catch-22 conversation that neither of us can really hear because I can’t go close enough.

Okey Dokey.

Eventually I went to the computer area and got my boarding pass. Didn’t go back to her.

This all goes back to my old post where I talk about how Delta employees seem to hate their jobs so much that it’s almost impossible for them to be nice to customers.

This whole situation was mostly just funny and sort or surreal and wasn’t that big of a deal.

But it does remind me of one thing about business. There are so many self destructive businesses out there that sometimes you only have to actually be normal to have a competitive edge.

When I fly Virgin they’re usually pretty competent. But really it’s the vast difference between Virgin and Delta/United/American. The old airlines are so bad, and Virgin is so normal, that it seems like I’m being treated like a king.

When really all that’s happening is I’m allowed to walk up to them and get my boarding pass.

22 thoughts on “Delta Revisited

  1. Omar says:

    Why didn’t you just walk up to them anyway? It’s not like they could have called security on you or anything.

    It is sad to hear that even first class passengers aren’t able to use a human to check in anymore, but the legacy airlines are burdened with labor and maintenance costs that newer airlines don’t have to deal with. A smaller amenity I had to do without last time I had a connecting flight on Delta: ticket sleeves. I had to walk over to the Southwest counter to get one.

    • Michael Arrington says:

      re why I didn’t just walk up – I was a bank teller for a long while during college and I remember it was a little annoying that customers walked up right after the last person left. Usually there was a few seconds of paperwork to do and put away before the next person could come up. Not a big deal, but it feels polite to make eye contact with the person and get an invitation to approach before doing so. Also, once the exchange began to become surreal I just wanted to see how it played out.

    • Michael Arrington says:

      my problem with the computer check in is that it absolutely never works for me. Part of it is a name problem – my legal first name is Jack but some of my IDs say Michael and some say Jack and for some reason it just always screws the computers up. I was able to check in today with the credit card I used to buy the ticket. Back when I was at aol/tc it was centralized purchasing so I didn’t have the card with me. I wasn’t able to check in at all at the terminals then, no matter what I tried.

    • James Nobles says:

      Why does it have to be the fault of high “labor” costs? Why not just bad management from top to bottom? Labor and maintenance costs made the Delta employee act like an ass?
      I flew United last week and it wasn’t much better….Traditional airlines are just disconnected from their customers at ever level and it manifests itself in actions like the ones described above. Like many “traditional” business run by the old boy network, customer service is just a operational cost. They don’t see it for what it is, mainly something on par with the actual service or product being sold. Virgin gets it, if a Virgin flight gets diverted, it sucks but at least you were treated well. If an Delta or United flight gets diverted, its the final shiv in the back because first of all you got treated like crap, then your flight got diverted.

      • Omar says:

        I mention labor and maintenance costs because the legacy airlines benefited from the old scheme before deregulation that ensured them a minimum profit stream to serve smaller communities—that meant legacy airlines also used to have more perks than they do now. Now it’s every man for himself, and the low-fare startups with newer fleets have a big competitive advantage. Don’t forget that newer fleets are more fuel-efficient, and the price variance between fares is not that high. So the workers are left to bear the brunt of the sacrifice (larger workloads, lower pay) while they struggle to stay in business.

        That doesn’t mean when I fly legacy airlines I get service without a smile. One of the friendliest and most fun announcers I’ve had on a flight was on Delta, and on United I once got a free shot of Bailey’s to go with my coffee just because I asked politely. I wonder sometimes how much customer service complaints have to do with the attitude of people going in.

        But of course if given a choice I’d fly Virgin. I just have a lot of sympathy for the people who work at the legacy airlines and the disadvantage they have in competing with newer rivals.

  2. That’s exactly why Virgin is my first choice!

  3. Well in India we just yell a lot at the customer service reps and keep reminding them about the job that they were getting paid for (by us), and usually this works even in hopeless situations. Its a funny thing with airlines though – everywhere in the world they are losing money and nobody seems to have figured out what the problem is !

  4. Reblogged this on The Ratliff Letter and commented:
    Another in a series of Delta “fails” I’ve heard from traveling regulars. Sad really, in an industry such as airlines… you’d think more airlines would want to focus on service.

  5. Ebi says:

    I don’t pay much attention to individual rants about airlines. Unhappy people will always make more noise than happy people; that tends to skew the perception of airlines negatively.

    Don’t get me wrong, they’re mostly all horrible. The entire industry is behind the times. In the last 30 years, communication has improved drastically (internet, mobile phones, smartphones, wireless internet, etc.), automobiles have improved (safer, more comfy, more efficient, etc.), everything has improved. The airline industry hasn’t embraced technology nearly as much as it should (web check-in is nice… but have they even questioned why we need to check-in?).

  6. I’m a Diamond level on Delta [1] so I greatly appreciate what you are saying. Advice: I rarely interact with Delta employees verbally since I have found better experiences from limiting it. I have just accepted that I have a better experience with the Delta kiosk (machines) at check-in for a boarding pass, avoiding the need to ask questions at the gate, and saying ‘no’ to offers once seated.

    The first Delta experience is check-in. What’d odd is that eventually if you do this enough times there will be someone from Delta that pops over to the kiosk and asks if you need help. Also, if for some reason the kiosk is down or errors out the Delta employee based check-in procedure at the desk is like falling out of the system. I’m a bother. Yes, I’m also typically flying first class due to my upgrades [2] and propensity for finding undersold flights. The Delta check-in areas are about lowest possible interaction.

    The next Delta experience is when you get to the gates. I’m always amazed at the variations in pre boarding, first class, sky priority, zones, etc… and there are always folks that just walk up like they own the place that get asked (nicely) to wait their turn. That’s when you see the other side of things. I’ve watched large grown men poke a finger in the chest of a much smaller Delta employee at a gate, shouting matches, minor meltdowns, and the eventual airport security drama. The Delta gates are about confrontation.

    The final Delta experience is when you are seated finally. Again, the variation is present. This trends from offers of complimentary liquor [3] and attempted witty banter to ‘who are you and why should I care’ from the Delta employees in the first class cabin. Coach? Don’t ask. Want to watch a movie in peace? Bring your own because in-flight entertainment has easily 40-50db gain over whatever you are trying to enjoy and the Delta employees will interrupt that experience for everything from fasten your seat belts to hocking credit card offers. But once underway, it’s actually very nice in first class and I am thankful that I am able to take advantage of that.

    [2] See [1]
    [3] See [1]

  7. Sam says:

    I’ve never had these kinds of problems with Delta, and I flew them something like 5 times this year. Maybe it’s a Seattle-specific issue?

    I’ve actually never flow Virgin but I can tell you that I fucking hate the “fun and friendly” Southwest schtick. Jetblue is usually fine in my experience.

  8. Matthew Maurice says:

    “The old airlines are so bad, and Virgin is so normal, that it seems like I’m being treated like a king.” You’ve captured contemporary US air travel in a nutshell. Even in their First Class there’s nothing extraordinary about Virgin America, but the fact that they suck so much less than the “legacy carriers” makes them seem superlative. I wonder what travel on United, Delta, American would be like if all their executives were required to do their all corporate travel on scheduled flights? Even in Business Class, I think they’d be shocked at what they saw and that things would likely change rather quickly.

  9. Matt says:

    I’m from the UK and have never flown Delta … but, after reading so much about them from Mike, I’m pretty curious about giving them a try just to see for myself: can they really be THAT bad ?!?! (I’m kind of hoping the answer is ‘yes’.)

  10. Mike D. says:

    I’ve flown three-quarters of a million miles with Delta, and your experience is typical. Their airport personnel’s attitude, even toward customers who spend 6 figures with them annually, ranges from utter indifference to outright hostility. I have to assume they haven’t invested in the kind of customer service training and monitoring that would keep their employees acting professionally. Or they just treat them so poorly that no amount of training would help. Or both. And yet I keep going back. It’s the only option for people like me who are based in Detroit.

  11. Raunak says:

    Like the fact you mentioned “normal”. I prefer airlines being normal. When the staff goes overboard trying to be super nice, it makes me super uncomfortable. The super nice staff at times looks like zombies.Hope all airlines just became normal.

  12. I love non-stops like you, but Delta has driven me to now fly Frontier DTW-SEA 6+ times a year. The layovers in Denver are less than 45 min, and the stop only adds about 1.5 hours to the total trip. The customer service is superior to Delta from all Frontier personnel I have interacted with over the last 2 years.

  13. JP says:

    Continental wasn’t so bad actually. My old airline of choice when I lived back East, in part because I knew the local crew. Used to go skiing with one of the gate agents and stuff, which also netted me the local number of the luggage counter.
    Now SFO is my home airport, which means I pretty much fly United or Virgin. Boarded the UA early morning flight to Newark the other day. Witnessed how an obviously mentally unstable gate agent yelled at a fellow passenger “I need you to hush” in a situation similar to what you describe from up in Seattle.

  14. You should have had a small child with you so that you could have asked to meet the pilot. A stewardess would have begrudgingly escorted you and the child to the cockpit, where the pilot and co-pilot (assuming it wasn’t a computer) would have greeted you with condescending smirks.

    Delta has long been known as the “mean airline.” Even in their heyday in the 80’s, the flight attendants had a holier-than-thou attitude. If a Delta plane crash-lands, the pilots and flight attendants are likely to run out of the plane before the passengers. You’re just lucky you didn’t have any serious problems, like lost luggage. Their general solution to dealing with lost luggage is to tell the customer to take a taxi to the K-Mart 5 miles from the airport and then pray to the great Delta God that Delta finds your bag sometime in the next month, presumably with the aid of sorcery.

  15. divingdancer says:

    Delta is awful. United isn’t a lot better. My favorite United story is about the time that I was flying from Baltimore to Cody,WY through Chicago. The “customer service” representative told me that she couldn’t help me because I was “flying to an international destination”. When I told her that I was flying to Wyoming, she said “yes, that’s international. I can’t help you.” When I explained that Wyoming is in the United States she looked at me like I had two heads.

    Airline customer service is a thing of the past.

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