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I’m seething with rage at Delta Airlines.

When I needed an airline to be “human” and to understood a painful personal situation I was treated appallingly with extreme disrespect.

When I then spent considerable time documenting this experience for the airline I was told that complaints had been “out-sourced” to another airline and then I was given a totally unacceptable, perfunctory response.

When I then endeavoured to communicate my continued dissatisfaction to the airline I was directed to a website and, some weeks after I submitting my “on-line” complaint, I received an insulting, computerised, “tick box” response.

So what happened to induce my rage? On Friday 10 Feb last, in her ninetieth year, my Mother passed away. I was heartbroken but took consolation from the treasured memories of my Mom as a deeply compassionate, loving human being who exuded acceptance, tolerance and warmth. The funeral arrangements were set for Monday, 13 Feb but I felt the need for another day at home and set about postponing my transatlantic flight, booked for Tuesday, 14 Feb, by 24 hours. My office helped with the calls and I was re-booked onto the Wednesday flight and initially informed that a small change fee might apply.

On Monday, 13 Feb, in the midst of a post funeral reception at my home with relatives and friends, I received a call from my office stating that the airline had been in touch. A family death, they said, would be subject to a change fee and would need to be supported by a copy of the full version of my birth certificate (which would indicate that Monica was indeed my Mother) and a copy of the Death Certificate. In this case the change fee would be over €1700! I was in no position either to produce these documents or argue with the airline so, very reluctantly, and with a very heavy heart, I decided to travel next day as per the original booking.

Upon check in at Dublin Airport I received a very sympathetic ear from Caroline Collins, the Delta airline representative at Dublin airport. If we had managed to speak with her, she said credibly, there would have been no issues re altering the booking etc. The problem was, however, that the airline only displays call centre numbers on its website so all calls are routed to the US no matter what their provenance or subject matter. Caroline advised me to put my complaint in writing which I did. That’s when a bad experience cascaded down the slippery slope, igniting the spark around the blazing rage that I now feel.

It was painful to spend well over an hour crafting a written submission to the airline documenting my bad experience as doing so only intensified the sad memories of the loss of my Mom. I then received the response below from “P. Linden (Ms)”

We regret to hear that you were given inconsistent information when calling Delta to change the date on your outbound flight to Memphis. The penalty fare of 200EUR for changing the date on your ticket, according to the ticket conditions, would have been waived at the production of a death certificate. You would not have been charged any additional fee for a seat in the same class that you were originally booked to travel in, however the only available seats on 15th February were in First Class and therefore you would have had to pay the fare difference of 1770EUR. We regret if the reason for this additional fee was not clearly communicated to you at the time of calling our Reservations department. We would like to offer our sincere apologies for the disappointment caused on this occasion. We hope that despite this, you will allow us a chance to welcome you on board one of our flights soon again, for what we trust will be a thoroughly satisfying travel experience.

It’s truly abhorrent to think that an airline would use totally artificial and arbitrary “class of purchase” issues as an excuse for disallowing a ticket change on compassionate grounds. But it is even worse to realise that my file hadn’t been properly read. Ms Lindén states that only seats in First Class were available on 15 Feb. I had booked and paid for a First Class seat!

At this stage the only resource available to register on-going dissatisfaction is to use an on-line form with pull down menus. It seems Delta (and, indeed, other airlines) have decided that all complaints and service blips on their part can be reduced to a series of tick boxes. Of course, I couldn’t locate any combination of pull downs or tick boxes to adequately describe my experience or, more importantly, to express the sheathing rage I felt at the airline’s on-going efforts to commoditise and grossly dishonour my personal grief. Regardless, I filled in the form as best I could and submitted my complaint.

On Friday last, over 4 weeks after my “claim” was submitted I received the following response:

Claim No5654391001 DL177 / 14FEB2012

Dear Mr GILLIGAN Thank you for your message. Please accept our apologies for the inconvenience you mention. Option charges : I am sorry to learn that you were disappointed with the charges incurred in your recent reservation change. Passengers are offered a wide variety of fares and each fare has restrictions associated with it depending on the actual amount paid. The higher the fare, the less restrictions are attached. OR Option unknown conditions: Applicable restrictions are communicated to passengers at the time of reservation and I am sorry to learn that you were unaware of the exact conditions of your recent reservation. We offer this initial variety of fares in an effort to provide as much flexibility and choice as possible to our passengers. Additionally we offer the possibility to adjust restricted reservations for a fee. While I understand your disappointment over this matter, the change fee in question is a valid fee for the change that you had requested. I am sorry for any disappointment that has caused. While I fully sympathise with your personal situation we regret that we are unable to modify our fare rules to take this into consideration. Thank you for placing your trust in Air France (“Air France thanks you for your loyalty” for Flying Blue customers). We hope to see you soon on our routes and at Best regards,

Thus I am seething with rage at Delta Airlines. I’m angry from a personal point of view because the airline’s inefficient systems and petty policies forced me to travel before I was ready. I’m doubly angry because these inefficient systems afforded me no proper recourse, appeal or sincere apology. I’ve even more angry now because the airline remains deaf to my experience and my only recourse is to tell my story here.

I’m also seething with rage at Delta Airlines because, as a meetings and events professional I am dependent on Delta and other airlines for success in my own endeavours. Once meetings professionals and airlines worked proactively and harmoniously together and assisted each other in generating great customer experiences for meetings, incentive travel experiences, conferences etc. For the last number of years this relationship has tended to be one-sided. When faced with the same economic challenges as the rest of us, airlines have tended to respond by decreasing, rather than increasing, customer service.

From a global corporate perspective there are many issues here around legitimate use of technology, processes, filtering and flagging of communications and, predominately, around brand protection and the advisability, or otherwise, of outsourcing customer feedback.

So where to now? I guess we’ll see. If Delta Airlines are “listening” on social media and if they make contact with me I promise to report the outcome of this contact in a future blog.

Padraic Gilligan is VP, Industry Relations with MCI, a globally integrated live events organisation with 47 offices worldwide.


7 thoughts on “Care in the Air. Customer service at Delta Airlines?

  1. Siobhan says:

    They messed with the wrong guy this time. I’m so sorry to hear you had to contend with all that rubbish on top of the death of your Mum. I’d say Delta will lose many customers as a result of this one including those travelling to Ireland for incentive travel experiences. they should be ashamed and I hope they pay handsomely for their lack of humanity in this instance let alone their lack of decent customer service! Ryanair would have treated you better and that’s saying something!!!

  2. Aoife Delaney says:

    Really interested to see if Delta follow up on this- word of mouth is a powerful tool and I for one wil be passing this poor customer device story around.

  3. JB shares your frustration PG, he’s in ongoing non productive correspondence with Delta about a negative travel experience in mid December! Now waiting to see what response his legal missive of last week brings, stay tuned…

  4. Jennifer Juergens says:

    So sorry to hear about this…I have a few stories about Delta myself!

  5. So JB’s ‘send in the lawyers’ approach has worked PG, stand by for a phone call!

  6. My spouse and I absolutely love your blog and
    find the majority of your post’s to be what precisely I’m looking for. Would you offer guest writers to write content for you? I wouldn’t mind publishing a post or elaborating on many of the subjects you write in relation to here. Again, awesome website!

    1. padraicino says:

      Thanks for reaching out and delighted that you enjoy the posts.

      Let me know what you have in mind re collaboration – always interested in working together.

      E mail me on [email protected]

      Many thanks

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