Monday, July 30, 2007

How Delta lost a loyal customer

In the summer of 2000, I was returning from Los Angeles to Knoxville Tennessee changing planes in Atlanta. I experienced such horrible customer service I decided to write Delta about my experience. After seven years of ignored letters and phone calls I decided to create this blog. Here is my story

So, we finally take off, three hours late. Our flight was making its final approach into Atlanta when we were informed that, because we were getting in so late (it was nearly midnight by this time) none of us would make our connecting flights. We were also informed that the gate agents would have hotel and food vouchers for us when we got off the plane. What followed was a lapse in customer service of epic proportions. First we were told to line up at the gate counter where the agent told us that there were, and I quote, “no hotel rooms left in Atlanta”. I and another passenger got on our phones and immediately got the Marriott at the airport who informed us that they had plenty of rooms available. When we told the gate agent this, she began screaming at us to “get off our phones before she had to call security”. When asked why she told us there were no hotel rooms in Atlanta she began screaming again “I never said that! I never said that!” When challenged (after all she had just said it not thirty seconds before) she begins yelling yet again! “We have run out of hotel vouchers okay? Okay? How is that for an answer?” Two more gate agents appeared and said that all we were getting were food vouchers. A lady with a small child came up and asked them why we were told we would be put up in a hotel, then told there were no hotel rooms in Atlanta when it was obvious that wasn’t the case. The large gentleman with the moustache yelled at her to “shut up or you won’t get anything’ which woke up her child who started to cry.

Since we were tired and hungry we lined up for the food vouchers and were told to go to the main terminal food court where “everything was open 24 hours a day” and we could get something to eat. While I was getting my things together for the trip to the food court, I noticed the lady with the young child asking the two gate agents if there was anything they could do since having to spend the night in an airport with a young child was inconvenient and also a little bit dangerous. The larger of the two said he would be back in a second. He reappeared with a transportation voucher and a hotel voucher for the lady. I thought this was a kind gesture since she was the only one stranded with a small child-more on this later.

The stranded passengers began pressing the gate agents about our options since they really were vague about what was going on. They told us that were booked on the first flight out in the morning, they told us the gate and time, and then they told us the Delta Crown Room opened at 5:00 am and that they would make arrangements for us to get in free so we could get “some snacks and sleep on a comfortable couch”.

So myself, my co-worker and a couple of other stranded people make the trek to the food court. What we find when we get there is a sight to behold. All of the restaurants are closed. Nothing is open. It suddenly dawns on us that the food vouchers were just a ruse to get us out of their hair.

Angry, hungry and tired, we make our way back to the gate and wait for the Delta Crown Room to open. After about an hour of talking and getting to know each other, the lady with the small child returns and she is in tears. It turns out that the hotel voucher they gave her was expired (a year old!) and the hotel no longer accepted Delta vouchers. We managed to calm her down and agreed to take turns watching her child while she got some much-needed rest.

5:00 am finally arrives and we make our way to the Delta Crown Room eager to get a snack and lay down on something other than a hard airport chair. You can probably guess what happened next. The lady at the door has no idea who we are, no one informed her of the situation and she “sure as hell isn’t letting us in for free”. After pleading with her she calls a manager. This manager proceeds to give us the third degree, checks our tickets (twice!). Leaves and comes back, leaves and comes back again and finally after half an hour says, “well, since you all aren’t going away I guess I will let you in”.

After a couple of hours of sleep and a snack I make my way to the gate and show the agent my ticket. She informs me that I should have been on the flight last night. I inform her that the plane was late, I missed my connection and Delta said I was on the first flight out in the morning. After being accused of “trying to run a scam” and talking to two managers, I manage to get home a day late.

But wait-it doesn’t end there. I try to make Delta aware of the horrible experience myself and the other passengers went through. I start by calling customer service. The first call had the service rep hang up on me. The second call had the service rep tell me I had nothing to complain about. The third call ended up with me holding for a manager for an hour until I finally hung up.

Since the phone was not effective, I decided to write a letter detailing my experience. Months go by with no reply. I write another letter. Months go by. Again, no reply. I have been sending Delta a letter about this incident every year for the past six years and I have never received so much as an I’m sorry.

So that’s the story of how Delta lost a loyal customer. I still travel quite extensively, just not on Delta. I find it sad that an airline that had such high standards of customer service fell so far in such a short period of time. No wonder they had to file for bankruptcy.