I posted on my Delta Airlines experience on Tuesday last and on Wednesday, upon my return to the office, there was a letter from Delta in my pigeon hole. My first communication had been copied to the nice people in Dublin and they had forwarded it to the Executive Office in Atlanta. Effectively there were now two hands in play – one via AirFrance/KLM, the “official”, outsourced customer care unit for EMEA residents and one via the Executive office in Atlanta. The response from Atlanta was dated 6 March but was not received at my office until 2 April. It came in a letter bearing a French stamp so must have been dispatched via some internal mail system at Delta. Last night, then, I received a communication from Megan Buchanan (Coordinator, Corporate Customer Care) in Atlanta in response to Tuesday’s blog. Both communications are reproduced below.
I now offer these observations in the hope of stimulating some discussion around customer service in the meetings and events industry and, in particular, in the airline sector. As a meeting professional this is often the single, vital piece of the event jigsaw that we cannot control, influence or plan. Yet so much of the total event experience pivots around care in the air.
Following two lengthy communications from Delta, both of which are at pains to stress how much they empathise with my situation (“Certainly, I understand your experience … my thoughts are with you and your family”) I still feel “unheard”. The fact that none of the Delta communications reports accurately on what actually happened leaves the sincerity of their apology in grave doubt. So effort has been made, time has been invested but I still feel aggrieved. What a waste! Clearly the systems and protocols around customer service are not working. But what would have made a difference to me?
If someone from Customer Service actually called me on the telephone to get the facts this would have saved a huge amount of everybody’s time. I would have had the opportunity to detail my experience and Delta would have had the chance to listen and to demonstrate genuine understanding. That may have been sufficient for me to be prepared to move on and the matter might have been closed.
Instead, I am the recipient of conflicting communications, full of empty platitudes and useless information about the policies and rules that apply in order for a passenger to qualify for a “Bereavement Fare” – just imagine, if you want to be cut some slack by Delta when somebody close to you dies you must be a member of SkyMiles and you better not be in possession of a first or business class ticket as “we do not offer a bereavement fare for the Business Class or First Class cabins”. This is the part where I believe Delta should hang its head in shame. How can such niggly nonsense be justified in the context of a recently bereaved passenger? Where do these petty policies fit in the context of the apologetic rhetoric of the Delta correspondence?
Michele Schrader’s letter offers me 5000 bonus miles “to apologise for any misunderstanding of our policy and your ticket”. While I am always grateful to receive free miles I cannot understand the correlation between this and profound upset that I experienced. Remember, I was told initially by a Delta representative that my ticket could be changed. I was even issued with another PNR. Then, in the midst of my heartbreak and grief, on the very day of my Mom’s funeral, I was informed that unless I agreed to pay €1770 the change would not be effected. All my plans had to be re-done and I was forced to travel the next day. Delta’s gesture in relation to this devastating experience is $175 (the cash value of 5000 miles according to the Delta website).
So the saga continues. What would make it right now? At this stage a call from Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta would demonstrate a serious degree of engagement from the airline. During that call I’d like to receive assurances from Richard that he has initiated a review of Delta’s policies around “Bereavement” and that all employees are empowered to act decisively to solve such issue (take a leaf out of Ritz Carlton’s book). And regarding the deep hurt that I experienced I’d like him to approve a donation of €1000 to the Alzheimer’s Association of Ireland who helped me and my sister to provide care at home for my dear mother. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
Correspondence from Delta
Dear Mr. Gilligan,
RE: Case Number 5907295
Your concerns that you shared through your blog and to our Delta Assist team have been brought to my attention for further review. On behalf of everyone at Delta Air Lines, I genuinely apologize for the frustration you experienced while trying to update your reservation for travel as well as your displeasure with the handling of your concerns and the inconsistent responses you have received.
To begin, I was saddened to know about the passing of your mother and I am deeply sorry for the troubles you encountered while making the travel arrangements to attend the funeral service. After reading your message that your mother was a compassionate, loving person who was very accepting, and warm to everyone, it is evident that she was a truly remarkable person. Certainly, I understand your experience while making your travel arrangements was utterly disappointing during this difficult time. As such, my thoughts are with you and your family.
Further, please know we are in receipt of your previous communications as well as the responses you have received from our Air France office on Europe. Please know that as part of our Joint Venture with Air France and KLM, our companies have combined efforts to better assist our passengers. To that end, any passenger residing in Europe will receive assistance from the AF/KL team in Europe due to residency requirements. While I believe our colleagues attempted to convey to you that we are sorry for the inconveniences you were caused, I regret you were not given a clear explanation regarding our bereavement fares, change fees for travelers requesting changes for bereavement, and the necessary documentation needed. With that said, our records show that your concerns were also escalated to our Executive Leadership team, and a paper letter was sent to you on March 6, 2012 with further details of your experience. For your reference, I have included a copy of this response.
Dear Mr. Gilligan:
We have been asked to contact you by Caroline Collins and Joan Carrick at the Dublin Airport. On behalf of Delta Air Lines, we sincerely apologize for any misunderstanding about our bereavement policies and the associated air fares. Please allow me to extend our condolences on the loss of your mother. I am truly sorry that the handling of your request for date change from Dublin added to already stressful situation for you. Allow me to offer a short explanation. In order to provide the best possible fare for emergency travel, we will waive certain requirements on our coach airfares. In addition, there may only be a limited number of seats available as tickets must be purchased and travel must start within three days of travel (seven days for International bereavement). The traveler must be a SkyMiles member or must have enrolled prior to travel to be eligible for our emergency fares. I see that you enrolled on February 14, your date of travel.
We do not offer a bereavement fare for the Business Class or First Class cabins. Therefore, in an emergency situation, as a gesture of goodwill, we normally waive the administrative change fee. This would require a copy of the death certificate and verification of relationship or documentation from the funeral home. However, we would not waive the difference in fares if you are traveling in the forward cabin and that is why you were advised of the great difference in fare. If you preferred not to pay the difference in fare and were willing to travel in the economy cabin, we could reissue your ticket for a bereavement coach airfare, if seats are available as mentioned above. I am truly sorry for any misunderstanding about the policy when your colleague contacted us on your behalf.
Please be assured we will continue to analyze our fares so emergency travel can be provided at the best possible price and rules. Please know it is not our intent to take advantage of customers during this sensitive time. I have shared your comments with our Marketing division leadership team for their consideration in future planning.
I see that you traveled as originally ticketed and I am sorry that a fare adjustment is not due. In an effort to apologize for any misunderstanding of our policy and your ticket, I have added 5000 bonus miles to your frequent flyer account 9257533860. Please allow three business days for the miles to appear. Again, we are very sorry for the inconvenience and misunderstanding about a ticket change. Your support and SkyMiles membership isimportant to Delta. We hope you will travel with us again soon so we can provide a more positive experience.
Sincerely, Michele Schrader
Coordinator, Corporate Customer Care
Respectfully, I hope this response from our Delta agent will provide a better understanding of the situation and I know that we will work hard to provide you with future service that earns your confidence. Mr. Gilligan, thank you for taking the time to write a blog relaying this unpleasant experience and for your efforts to share your dissatisfaction with the service you received while traveling with us. Be assured we take our commitment to serving you very seriously. Your feelings are important to us, and your loyalty as a SkyMiles member is valued. I hope in time you will provide us with another opportunity to welcome you onboard a Delta flight.
Megan Buchanan, Coordinator, Corporate Customer Care, Delta Air Lines