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Delta Skelter

I’ve yet to encounter the person at the other end of the e-mail or line that gushes with an, “OMG, *you’re* THE Joseph Jaffe???!!!”

Here’s a personal example of one company that perhaps should have reacted that way.

I call it Delta Skelter and what follows is an excerpt I wrote on my blog on June 4th, 2008:

I’m writing this post from a cramped 16E on Delta’s 10 hour Flight 21 from JFK to Sao Paulo. The tray table is so small it doesn’t even support my laptop, so my literally using my PC as its name suggests: on top of my lap.

I guess I’ll write for as long as I can until the battery runs out (because there is no power in these seats either)

To my left and right are scenes from a horror movie – people curled in embryonic positions; people sleeping on the floor; others doing things with their bodies I didn’t think were even possible.

I want to just state here and now before moving on to the real essence of this post that I think coach class is borderline unacceptable. Airlines need to seriously think about taking out rows of seats and give their customers something that doesn’t threaten to break human rights violations. I completely understand the trade offs that might come with a vacation (especially during these trying times) – price is a major consideration and I guess, with discounted prices comes an inevitable trade-off.

Business travel is different. And it is what happened to me on Delta that has prompted me to take a stand and dig in my heels to let this airline know that I WILL NOT GO AWAY QUIETLY. Not this time.

To spare you some of the pain I’ve gone through, I’m going to give you a bulleted list of my day/night (as it continues to unfold) I’ll then fill in the blanks:

May 25, 2008

  • Picked up in Westport at 12.30pm
  • Arrive at Newark and head to the Crown Room
  • Get to the gate around 2.30pm for my scheduled 3.20pm flight to Atlanta. Flight is supposed to get in around 5pm, which gives me a 2 ½ hour window before my scheduled 7.40pm flight to Sao Paulo (GRU)
  • Boarding is delayed by 30 mins
  • Eventually around 3.15pm, we are on the flight, but instead of closing the door we are all told to disembark
  • 20 mins later we are told that the flight is cancelled and the next flight to Atlanta is now only at 6pm
  • I speak with an agent who tells me there is a Delta flight from JFK to GRU leaving at 10.20pm that evening.
  • She rebooks me on Business class (with the words “seat request” on it) and gives me a travel voucher. She tells me I’m confirmed.
  • I take a cab (without air conditioning) to JFK, check in (again); go through security (again) and head to the Crown Room (again)
  • I ask the Crown Room agent if he can confirm my seat. He says he cannot and I need to do it at the gate
  • Around 9.30pm I head to the gate, where I encounter what can only be described as a scene from a horror movie (and that’s me being kind)
  • There are swarms of people around 3-4 gate agents who are a combination of flustered, indifferent and/or downright rude. I am totally ignored until the moment of truth: I’m told there is no business class seat for me and I need to fly coach
  • The one agent shoves a piece of paper with a telephone number instructing me that I can complain by calling the number. Meanwhile I’m in a cramped seat, without food (I have not eaten the entire day), without power, etc.
  • On the flight I have a civilized conversation with “Larry”, the pilot, who with his genuine approach really feels my pain. He tells me “whatever I need, food, drink, entertainment, bedding, just ask”. I do just that but am told several times, “there’s not enough food” or “we don’t have spare duvets for you.” Eventually I get a duvet and pillow.
  • As a benchmark, a month or two ago, I was on a United flight and I ordered a special meal which was mixed up. I had 3 flight attendants apologize, together with the pilot coming to see me. He included a personal message and handed me his business card.
  • On this Delta flight, I was told to call a toll-free number to request a refund. Interestingly enough, all coach passengers who agreed to step off the flight were given an extra 24 hours in New York, accommodation, transportation and a guaranteed Business Class seat on the May 26 flight. Myself and Samuel (at least one other downgraded paying Business class passenger were given bupkas)
  • I did call the number and was offered 5,000 skymiles. As of yet, I’m not sure if the difference between business and coach was refunded.

And so here I am, about an hour from touching down in Sao Paulo. My first experience in South America is not exactly getting off to the best possible start. It doesn’t help that I have to go into several meetings either.

I didn’t want to be the “Jeff Jarvis”, the “Doubletree Hotel” duo i.e. coming good on the “I have an influential blog” veiled threat, but here’s the thing:

1. I am a Platinum Skymiles customer. Platinum is Delta’s highest frequent traveler tier

2. I booked (paid for) a Business class seat (in the region of $5,000 USD)

3. have an American Express Delta Skymiles affinity credit card

4. I am a customer.

You would think that any one of these criteria would give Delta cause to treat me special, look after me and help solve my problem. Delta barely met the minimum; in fact they failed miserably treating me as a customer, let alone of their most frequent (and loyal?) ones.

Ironically, when I returned to New York the next day, the entire flight crew was on the flight. I was greeted with a combination of sheepish and genuine grins and given good service. I had a long conversation with Captain Larry (Lieutenant Dan!); he invited me into the cockpit to meet his flight crew and I even gave him a copy of my book.

The night before, I said to Larry that there was no way with a good conscience that I can ever fly Delta again. This wasn’t a threat; it was a promise. Some 2 days later, I found myself rethinking my angry (and arguably impetuous) tirade. After all, Captain Larry showed the human side to brands that ordinarily are never revealed.

After much thought (and I shared this with Larry), I have decided to go ahead with my post and my intentions to get Delta’s attention and have them properly address what they put me through.

Here was my original intention:

  • Cut up my Delta Platinum Medallion card
  • Cut up my American Express Delta Skymiles Credit Card
  • Switch all my transactions to my American Express AAdvantage Credit Card
  • Keep a tally in $$$ of all non-Delta flights I take from hereon end
  • Keep a tally in $$$ of all credit card transactions I make from hereon end
  • Share this “progress” with Delta as a means of reflecting how one bad experience can have pretty substantial repercussions
  • Tell 1,000,000 people about this effort (I’ve already shared it with 5,000+)
  • Ask my community to do the same i.e. spread the word, share $$$ value of business taken away from Delta and add it to the tally

For now, I’m going to hold off on the permanent divorce and ask for a separation (and counseling) In fact I’m going to tell Delta EXACTLY what they need to do to rectify this for me:

  • I want a written letter of apology from the Chief Marketing or Chief Executive Officer of Delta
  • I want 2 First Class tickets to anywhere in the world that Delta flies (such as South Africa)

My “price” is based on the “upgrade” they gave their overbooked coach customers and the fact that miles are worthless to me, as is a refund of the difference between fares. Neither option gives me back what I lost in comfort, convenience, productivity and wear and tear on my body.

As one of the flight attendants informed me (inside information they said…), Business Class was OVERBOOKED by 3 people already by 3pm the day before i.e. 36 hours before the flight was due to leave. None of this was communicated to me. If it had been, at least we could have discussed being booked on another airline in business class. Talk about managing expectations.

So there you have it, my 36 hour ordeal (door to door) eventually ended, as has essentially my relationship with Delta. I hope this post sends out a message to Delta and ALL SERVICE PROVIDERS to stop and take notice. Every single time you disappoint or destroy the customer experience, you are literally flushing tens of thousands of dollars down the toilet. If you don’t pay attention and change your practices you will surely fail.

If you have been treated badly by Delta (or any service oriented company for that matter), sign the bottom of this post in the comment section as a petition of sorts. Or better yet, leave your vote on the Delta Skelter Facebook Group. Let’s demonstrate that we can amass 1,000,000 unified voices of dissent – and in doing so, demonstrate our collective power in the form of action (ultimately taking our business elsewhere)

For what it’s worth – and compared to Dell Hell – this is a softball. In this day and age, I have to think that it will be less than 24 hours that this post finds its way to a muckety-muck in Delta’s marketing and/or customer service department. It’s an experiment in response and responsiveness of sorts. Let’s see how long – or short – it takes to be properly dealt with and resolved (according to MY terms) by an airline that has committed its entire being to CHANGE.

I want to state categorically that I’m not trying to be malicious at all. I’ve attempted to temper this post as much as I possibly can stand do. During these trying times, airlines are between a rock and a hard place. That said, there simply is no excuse for abusing and neglecting your lifeblood: your customers. If anything, now is the time – more than ever – to focus on relationships and to pay particular attention to the small things; the intangible things; the most important things.

Here’s what happened next:

–       Within 24 hours, I received a voice mail from Delta’s customer service department. I was not shocked as it seemed pretty obvious and inevitable that someone would know someone who knew someone in corporate customer service.

–       That’s probably the high point of the brand’s response as it all went downhill from there:

o      When I called back, the person in question has left for the day

o      This happened to be on a Friday and so the entire weekend went by without a resolution

o      When I did speak with customer service, my best offer I received was a $300 voucher and 2 upgrade certificates on upgradeable fares i.e. not cheap. Typically, a passenger who volunteers to get bumped from a flight in coach would receive the same offer. Hell, they might even get an upgrade on their next flight.

o      I indicated that respectfully I might decline this offer and that’s pretty much the end. I never heard from Delta again.  They never called. They never wrote. They never commented. You could almost sense the exact moment I became persona non grata to them; not worth pursuing anymore.

There was no follow-up or follow-through. No commitment to resolving the problem. No haggling. No negotiation. Nothing.

To be honest, I’m not sure I ever expected 2 First class round-trip tickets anywhere in the world. I would gladly have accepted one. I would have also gladly accepted lifetime Platinum Medallion status (ok, 10 years) (ok, 5 years) (ok, 3 years but that’s my final offer). Or perhaps a page in their in-flight magazine to promote one of my other books (as opposed to this one that documents their horrible customer service)

Want to know how this all ended? Here’s the update:

–       In the 12 months since Delta Skelter, I’ve flown under 10,000 miles in total on Delta. In 100% of these cases, the decision was because Delta was the only airline that met a specific schedule requirement/restriction and/or flew direct.

–       As a yardstick, I’ve flown well over 150,000 miles on other airlines

–       My Platinum Medallion status has lapsed. I’m now Gold Medallion and soon I’ll be whatever comes underneath that

–       I’ve closed down my Delta credit card

–       To this day, people from around the world approach or e-mail me with their Delta horror stories.

Apparently none of this stopped Delta from sending me an “exclusive” invitation to their Reserve credit card because I’m one of their “very best customers.” I. Think. Not.


Delta may have forgotten me, but I haven’t forgotten them.

Nor has Google.


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One Response to “Delta Skelter”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Oscar Allain, Matt. Matt said: @oallain8 @delta I told u delta sucks! But ur not alone! @jaffejuice […]