Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Proof Delta hates their customers

WARNING: Very long post, but it illustrates the contempt and disdain Delta has for their suckers, I mean customers.

This is from a "Miss S"

Let me preface this by saying if at all possible, NEVER fly through JFK airport in New York, and NEVER EVER use Delta Airlines.

I was scheduled to fly home Thursday morning from Phoenix, AZ. We made wonderful time to the airport, even though there was traffic. I had been concerned about our flight because they admitted they had seriously overbooked it. But fortunately, we made it there early enough and were given three seats in a row for my children and I. After we said goodbye to my father is when it all slowly started to unravel into a nightmare of Hollywood proportions.

The gate area was packed with people waiting for the flight, when someone noticed that the board suddenly displayed a two hour later time of departure. The agents didn't want to announce it, but finally they were forced into it by their supervisor (I got to hear all the behind the scenes chatter between the supervisor and the agents because of where I was sitting.) Apparently, JFK had an "all ground stop" in effect.

I was concerned about my connecting flight, but I was told mine had been delayed just enough too that it shouldn't be a problem. They boarded the flight two hours late, and then informed everyone after sealing the plane that we were "going to a remote location on the tarmac to wait anywhere between an hour to two hours." Fortunately, it was only just over an hour. We had a relatively uneventful flight out to New York, and I thought everything would be fine as I got off the plane.

Unfortunately, I walked into a nightmare. Whatever had happened at JFK earlier had caused a massive circus. I walked into people crammed into every inch of the terminal. People shouting, lines to counters over 100 people long, no restaurants (even fast food) to be had minus a couple stands which we did make use of (two small sandwiches and a water cost me $28!!!) We found a spot on the floor to stick close together and eat, since the screens all said my flight was delayed another two hours to get back to Vermont.

We were eating, and watching people going crazy while Delta did things like load two planes simultaneously through a single gate, when I heard the people say behind me "Damn it! They canceled our flight to Burlington!" Oh dear. Four other flights were canceled up on the board as well.

I gathered up the kids, mid-sandwich, and got into line. We were in the line over an hour. By the time I got to the counter, the agent didn't even speak to me, just took my tickets and started tapping at the computer in a completely bored manner. I finally said "could you maybe tell me what's going on?" She replied that she was looking for the next flight to put me on to Vermont and it was SUNDAY (remember, it's Thursday.) I told her that this wouldn't do, and looked up at the screen. There was a flight leaving for Albany, NY (about 2 1/2 hours from home) in 25 minutes, could they put us on that? No, she informed me - you must be checked in 30 minutes prior. So while there were seats, she refused to put us on the plane. Standby for the next day wasn't an option.

The people next to me were on the same flight having the same problem. We chatted with each other and decided that we would all rent a van and drive back together. Fantastic idea right? So, we all left the counter without getting booked on anything. We're going to drive home, why bother? Ok, note for all the travelers out there - even if you think you are going to do something else, get booked on SOMETHING.

As a group, we went to the vehicle rental area and tried to get a van. Every single rental place was SOLD OUT. I kid you not. We went through ten rental companies. I realized that Enterprise car rentals wasn't listed, called and got the number, talked to a representative who then informed me that while they did have cars, they refused to rent a one way car. The car must be returned to New York. I should mention that my mental state at this point was starting to break down. I begged her, and said that what about another town in New York State? Something close to the border of Vermont? She finally found one and said that would be alright... oh but OOPS for me, they JUST CLOSED! Oh, and besides, it wouldn't seat everyone anyway and she suggested I try for it tomorrow and put the kids in the same seatbelt.

At this point, I was beginning to panic. We were out of car rental options, had no ticket booked or anything. As we turned to go back to the ticket counter (the idea was to ask delta to look at other airlines and see if we could purchase a ticket on there, we were also looking at the bus and so on. I should also add that Delta refused any responsibility for any of this. They said it was due to weather earlier in the day that these flights had been canceled - there was NO weather issues in New York that evening - and so it's our problem not theirs) a couple Delta representatives and security came up and actually KICKED US OUT OF THE AIRPORT!

They said this upstairs Delta area was closed for the night. We explained we needed to get booked on something, have some option, they told us we had to make our way to the night ticketing area. OK, we said, how do we get there. We were told we could have gone through the inside, but they were closed and were not going to make any exceptions, so we should walk around the outside until we found the right way in.

Now, let me explain something to you all - it's after 10 PM, it's dark. There are no side walks. There are no lights. I'm just grateful I wasn't the only one locked out. There were about 15 of us. We had to walk the outside of the airport for over 40 minutes looking for a way in. And by the outside of the airport, I mean we were walking on the highway vehicle on-ramps and roads with oncoming traffic. I cannot begin to express to you my terror of keeping my six and nine year old safe and in my line of sight while walking in the dark on busy roads, locked out of an airport without anywhere to go. We were turned away from multiple entrances by people who could have given a damn.

We finally found the way in, and proceeded to stand in line at least another 30 minutes. I finally got an agent and she spent her time working on my ticket and LAUGHING with the other agents at everyone's distress over the situation. I'm not kidding. I would have leaped over the counter and hurt her if I wasn't so terrified about what the hell I was going to do. I went through the whole dance again about when could I get on a flight to Vermont - Sunday. What about closer to home airports - No. What about flying me through another airport (like Boston, to Vermont) - No. She kept asking about other nearby airports, but there really aren't that many.

I heard someone mention Manchester, NH. I had forgotten that one, and it's still about three hours from home - but better than this. So, I mentioned that one. She said she could get us on that for Friday evening (late). Still, it was better than nothing. Fine. She went tapping away, and then said "Alright, I need your passport."

I figured she was confused and I said "You mean my I.D., right? I have that right here..."

"No, you need a passport."

My jaw dropped. Several things sprung to mind. I suppose the worst one to come out would have been "Are you F****** with me?" Fortunately, the one that actually made it to my vocal cords was "But New Hampshire is a State in the US! Manchester, NH is IN the United States!"

"You still need a passport to go there."

"NO, I DON'T! It's in the USA! I'm not leaving the country to get there, it's not a foreign country, I don't need a passport!"

"Yes you do. You need a passport to go to Manchester."

"You aren't looking at Manchester in the United Kingdom, right? You have the right flight to New Hampshire?"

"Yes, and you need a passport. Without a passport, I cannot book you on this flight."

"I DO NOT NEED A PASSPORT TO GO TO NEW HAMPSHIRE!" At this point I was seriously at my breaking point. The total absurdity of the situation, the fact that it was almost midnight, the nightmare I was in, I almost started crying. How do you convince someone that New Hampshire is in the USA and you don't need a passport? Shouldn't that be common sense for a TICKET AGENT?!?!? I was so blown away, I didn't even know what to do. She may have noticed that I was about to totally lose it, because she took my drivers license and then called someone. They spent over half an hour chatting on the phone (making fun of the people freaking out all around us) and finally booked us on the flight.

I heard one guy a few counters down start screaming "I expect customer service, that's what I expect! You expect that when you go out, why the hell shouldn't I expect it!!!" My agent laughed and shook her head and said in this sing-song voice "The more they shout, the lesssssss we help them! Ha ha!" Another guy was on his cell phone to Delta shouting about how he had paid for trip insurance and everything, and apparently Delta told him since this was due to weather earlier in the day, it wasn't their fault and they owed him nothing. He didn't take that well.

I finally had the tickets, and my children were in tears. I knew I needed to get to somewhere to stay. We went down to the area where they have hotel information and it was completely deserted. It was just a cement area that echoed and one guy working behind a glass enclosed counter that was for hotel room placement. I got there and he immediately shook his head at me and said in broken English "All hotels booked. No rooms."

I said that there had to be rooms somewhere, please, please. He insisted that there was not. The kids were seriously losing it at this point, crying and scared. Hell, I was scared and not far from crying either. The guy's supervisor showed up and tried making some calls, he said there was a motel about 40 minutes out and I'd have to take a cab out there and hope they had a room. It didn't sound good at all, plus I didn't have the cash for a 40 minute cab fare. I did lose it at that point. I started tearing up and said to them that I didn't know what to do. My flights had been canceled, all the cars were sold out, I couldn't get a flight - hell they wouldn't even let me back in the airport, and that I was scared. I needed a safe place to take my children - please help me, please, please help.

I'm not proud I did that. I actually feel rather ashamed for not be calmer and stronger, but the supervisor called the Ramada in front of me and asked (a lot of pleases to them) and got me a room. It cost me $300. I then had to find a cab to take us there. I went out to the taxi stand and was informed that it was closed for the night. Can I just say that of all the things I expected in New York, things like taxi stands closing at midnight was not one of them? I was told I could hike out to the freeway and try to get one there. I begged again, and he took pity on me and called one in. Three other people showed up behind me and he rolled his eyes and called one for them too.

The guy then went on to say that apparently Delta has been doing this for weeks now. They are using any excuse they can to cancel evening flights. I passed that along to my father, and he said that makes sense since Delta is fighting their way out of Bankruptcy - financially, doing this is good business for them. Anyway, we waited over 30 minutes before the taxi got there. It took us to the hotel (a $20 cab fare for just over 5 minutes in the cab.)

We walked inside the hotel and there was a line of about 60 people in front of us trying to get a room. I heard that even though we prepaid at the airport, they might not have a room. I was tearing up again, but I decided this lobby was safer for sleeping in than the airport bathroom - because we were almost at that point. It was at this point that the only moment of true kindness happened. A woman in front of us was there with her family. They had driven in to catch a flight and were bumped. She heard some of what happened and saw my kids crying (it was almost 1 AM at this point) and she said that if we were turned away that they would personally drive us to another hotel until we found a room. I almost hugged her on the spot, I also almost burst into tears again.

When I got to the counter I was informed that all they had left was a single. I didn't care. I took it. It was the size of a closet, and reeked of smoke so badly I had an asthma attack (since I had my inhaler this was the least of my worries) - but since it had a bathroom and a door lock it was safe. I could stop. I put the kids into bed, both of them sobbing, and snuggled them until they went to sleep. I then called my husband (who I had been in and out of contact all night with on my cell phone.) We agreed that given what we knew that there was a good chance that the NH flight the next night would be canceled too. He was going to come and get us in the morning, even though it's over a six hour drive.

I hung up, and then cried myself to sleep - I think it was just a combination of this all being such a nightmare, and finally being safe after everything we had been through. I slept only a couple of sporadic hours. We had no clothes, or anything because our bags actually WENT to Vermont. The hotel said they had no little packages left of the toothbrush/hairbrush things. So we slept in our clothes and didn't brush our teeth, but that was hardly worth complaining about. I wanted to give the kids a bath in the morning, but the mat in the tub was rotted out and covered with mildew so I opted not to do so. Then the hotel asked us to check out early, after originally telling us we could stay until 1 PM.

I finger combed my hair as best I could and tried to straighten up our clothes, and then we checked out and went down to the restaurant to eat a very slow lunch waiting for my husband who had left first thing in the morning. He finally arrived looking exhausted, but I was so happy to see him. He ate lunch and then we jumped in the car, only to get stuck in a three hour traffic jam through Manhattan. Half way home, my son got car sick and threw up. My daughter had a headache, and I had a migraine. But I have to tell you, when we finally crossed the border back into Vermont everyone cheered.

We arrived home at 10:30 PM last night. I put the kids into a bath, even though they were exhausted. I showered and got into clean clothes as well. There are few things I appreciate more than a pair of clean underwear right now. Before I went to bed, I called Delta and asked about my bags. They're in Vermont at the airport, they refuse to deliver them because they didn't lose them. My argument that they lost ME didn't hold any water apparently. So we have to drive an hour to the airport and pick them up today.

I did ask Delta to take some responsibility for the situation (nightmare), they refused. I'm writing a letter of complaint, but I was told they don't care because this wasn't their fault. So I'm doing the only other thing I can: tell everyone I know never to fly with Delta.

I know I shouldn't still be tearful today, but I am. I slept late this morning, and it was so incredible to wake up in my own bed. I cannot even express how terrifying it was to go through that. It would have been bad in any case, but having my kids with me and feeling as though I couldn't protect and provide for their safety was horrible. I will never be able to get the image of walking on the highway with our backpacks trying to just find a way into the airport in the dark with cars coming at us, or one of the other images of the night that I experienced out of my head. At least I now understand how movies can literally be based on this type of circumstance. Who knew?

I'm working on trying to find the humor in the situation, but minus the fact that apparently Manchester, New Hampshire is a foreign country, I'm just not there yet. Worse yet, in about a week I'm flying to Minnesota with the kids. The last thing I want to do is get on another plane.

I wonder if I'll need a passport to go there? ;)

** Update: We drove to the airport and got all our bags (several with new holes in them, I think to make sure they got in their parting shots at us because they hadn't done enough already) and there were several people in line complaining about various things. The woman at the Delta counter was the ONLY one who said sorry to me at all throughout this whole mess. I am grateful I got my bags, and I'm home. I'm filing a complaint with Delta, the BBB, and the FAA (though I don't see how complaining to the FAA about this would matter - seems out of their jurisdiction, but I'm just going to send the same letter to everyone.) I can't think of anyone else to complain to, so I'll leave it at that.

When I called their "Customer Care Line", the woman immediately went on the attack when I said I had a problem. I can only imagine that she was probably fielding calls all day from upset passengers. I tried to be nice, but being told that an airline cannot possibly accept responsibility for anything that happened really irritated me. Maybe not, but I feel like they should to some degree. I feel that my children and I were victimized by Delta, and no one there even cares - or worse, they think it's funny. That's inexcusable.

** I spoke with the FAA, Department of Transportation this morning (7/30) and she explained the industry is deregulated (did you all know that? I didn't.) They don't have to do anything, it's the airline's choice to help out stranded travelers or not. Still she agreed some of what I went through was simply absurd (like the whole passport thing) and had me file a written complaint. So that covers everyone I think; FAA, BBB, Delta. Now I suppose I just try to forget it and never use Delta again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

They hate their flight students too at Delta Connection Academy.