August 21, 2010 Home Again, Temporarily – Letter to Delta Airlines

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |

I am back in the States a few weeks early. I have contracted a nasty case of Bronchitis, and Larisa cannot bring Sonia, our new daughter, home while I am coughing, sneezing, and gasping. It was an interesting flight home, and this is a copy of a letter that I sent to the office of the President of Delta after my flight back..

Dear Gentlemen.

On Aug 10, I took flight 31 out of Moscow and traveled to LA on the worst trip that I have had in years, and it was all due to continuing policies and practices of Delta. On the plus side, I may be a hit on U-Tube.

I knew there was going to be a problem before I even finished making the reservations. I pointed out to the reservation clerk that she had booked me into JFK on an international flight that arrived one hour and 40 minutes before my flight to Minneapolis was scheduled to leave. I asked her if she was aware that I would have to clear customs, clear security again, and get to the new flight which was probably in a different terminal.

“Don’t worry”, she said. “We do this all the time. They have 15 passport gates and everybody makes it right through.”

She also scheduled my connecting flight from Minneapolis to LA about one hour and 20 minutes after the flight from JFK was supposed to arrive.

I should mention that I am a diabetic. This is not normally a problem, particularly on international flights, because every airline that I have been on serves a meal or a snack about every 4 hours on long flights, which is sufficient for a diabetic to stay comfortable. You also warned me that there was no food on the second leg of the tip. I believe that the phrase was “Food available for purchase”, or, in plain English, “We have the same great level of service as your local city bus.” Having been warned that I would have to be self sufficient on that leg, I planned to purchase some food in the terminal between flights.

The problems began right away. I paid almost $2,000 for the Delta flight, expecting that, at least for that amount of money, I would have the use of your excellent in flight entertainment systems. You’re a lot more expensive that Aeroflot on that run, but 10 hours of watching films and television programs makes the trip go faster.

At least it would, if the system worked. About 15 minutes into the flight, my console and those of the people around me went dead. About an hour into the flight, one of the crew members tried to reset our consoles, but to no avail. For my two grand, I got 10 hours of mind numbing boredom staring at a screen that only showed the flight map and a couple of childish games. That may have colored my later perceptions slightly, but I doubt it.

The next odd thing was that the crew started serving dinner before we even reached cruising altitude. We were facing a 10 hour flight and the crew seemed to be determined to get the service done in less than an hour.

Then they petty much disappeared for over 8 hours. They came around twice with a generous offering of water, coffee, or tea, and once they offered some pretzels or peanuts and a diet coke, but mostly they were absent.

After 9 hours or fasting, you pretty much have a plane full of hungry, bored, and unhappy passengers. Then, as we started our approach to JFK, the crew returned to the galley (which had been totally empty for about a half hour) and announced that everyone was going to get a sandwich! Not a lunch, but at least a small sandwich. Well, almost everyone. When they got to the 32nd row in economy, they announced that catering had not counted the food correctly, and they were out of sandwiches. Not to worry, they had a bag of pretzels for everyone!

Then, as the flaps deployed, a voice from the galley shouted, “I found some more sandwiches!”, and two very nice ladies came running down the aisles throwing sandwiches to people on both sides of them.

It turned out to be an important sandwich. It may have been the reason that I was still conscious when I reached LA.

The lady in reservations assured me that it was easy to get through passport control, and it would have been if we had been the only plane landing at that time, or, if there had been more than one security check line operating past the passport control.

As it was, when I finally cleared the security check, my hour and a half connection time was down to 14 minutes. I had 14 whole minutes to get to a gate so far away that the distance was best described in parts of a mile, rather than feet or meters.

I’m 67 years old, bald, and about 6′ 2″, and 290 pounds. Fortunately, I can still run – not gracefully – but steadily. So, I jogged and sweated and jiggled and pounded and grunted and dragged my carry on through the airport. It wasn’t easy or pretty. If anyone with a camera saw me, I am certain that the video will be on U-tube at any minute, and I sure do feel sorry for the two unfortunate people who had to sit next to me, as there was also no time for a shower.

Of course, I didn’t have time to pick up food from any of the stands. I had a long run and got to the gate well after boarding had already started.

Of course there was the “Food for sale” listed on my itinerary. It turned out that the plane didn’t have the entire advertised selection of foods available. What was available was a choice of two BIG candy bars or a “snack box” with enough sugar and carbohydrates to put a diabetic into a coma. It was a long and hungry flight, but the nice flight attendant did find me a cookie to go with my diet coke.

I wasn’t’ worried yet. Hungry and tired, but not worried. Food had been in short supply and exercise in excessive supply for about 15 hours by that time, but the itinerary showed that on the longer flight coming up, I would get lunch and I had a leisurely hour to stroll from one gate to the other and stop for a little snack in Minneapolis.

What a difference an hour makes, particularly when it is the hour that your flight is late coming into Minneapolis. In fact we were more than an hour late, and the plane was full of passengers who had to catch connecting flights.

I was in this situation recently with one of your competitors. Weather had delayed us about an hour and the airline staff knew it would be hard to make our connections. When we got off the plane, your competitor had an airline staff at the foot of the ramp with a clipboard helping us find our connections and giving directions to the gates. Because one of the connections was a long way off, they had an electric cart to take those passengers to their gate.

Your staff handled it differently. While we were on final approach, one of the staff made an announcement “We are coming in late and many of you are going to have difficulty making your connections. Some of you may miss your flights. If you do miss your flight, come to a Delta counter and we will try to reschedule you for a later flight.” As the attendant passed by my seat, she told me that she had made that announcement too many times before.

We were on our own. Find a monitor, find your gate, and find someone to give you instructions on how to get to that gate. In my case, I had about 12 minutes to get to a gate in another terminal a long way off. You had booked me on KLM, your “partner” on the way in and on Delta on the way out. You may be partners, but not close partners because your gates were as far apart as the airport size allowed.

Fortunately, I can still run – not gracefully – but steadily. So, I jogged and sweated and jiggled and pounded and grunted and dragged my carry on through the airport. If anyone was watching, there was a second chance for a good U-tube video.

I made it just as they were seating the standby passengers. The flight attendants said that the flight was overbooked, but the flight took off with empty seats as other passengers, less nimble than me, had failed to make the connection.

Of course, I again didn’t have time to purchase food for the flight. Not to worry, this flight was four hours long, and the itinerary listed “lunch” to be served.

I am certain that somewhere in world, somebody on a Delta flight was served lunch that day. It just wasn’t us. In fact, in addition to no lunch, there were no foods available for purchase. Not to worry, the nice flight attendant found me another whole cookie to go with my diet coke.

When I got to LA, I had been in Delta’s good hands for 21 hours, comprised of boredom, tedium, exercise, and hunger. You guys give discount airfare a bad name.

May I pass on a few hints to make your passengers happier?

Please inform your reservations staff that KLM and Delta are NOT the same airline. They do not share physical locations and the gates are often WAY apart. I met many passengers with the same connection problems that I had, and Delta staff that I spoke with verified that the problems are common. An hour long layover is good thing only if the gates are in the same location.

When you do screw up, look to your competitors for examples of what to do for your passengers. Announcing, “You’re late. Good luck. Let us know how it works out.” is not good customer service.

Leaving the passengers without food for nine consecutive hours on a ten hour flight is probably not the path to customer happiness, even for the non-diabetics.

If you are going to cheap out on the food service, offer a rational alternative. When Southwest pioneered the food for cash programs, they offered a simple but nice box lunch for purchase before you got on. It was only a sandwich or two and piece of fruit and perhaps a bag of chips, but it was acceptable. Your selection of high sugar packages obviously chosen only for their incredibly long shelf life is a joke. The average gas station has a better choice of foods than your KLM flights.

I have now learned that the ONLY time to take Delta is when price is your only consideration and when you don’t have more than one connection.

But, I got a good story for my friends and neighbors. Not a total loss.

Yours truly, but not affectionately

Rodger Olsen

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