Nonplussed traveler: Despicable way to run an airline

Usually when I name an airline in a sentence that contains the world “despicable” it’s almost always Spirit Airlines, the poster boy for airborne evil. However, after what I recently witnessed, you can add Delta Air Lines to that mix and they’re trying to claim the “All-Time Incompetency Award as their exclusive domain.

I happened to be on a flight home to Detroit from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. The fact we were about 45-minutes or so late getting off the ground was really not much of a concern because horrific weather on the East Coast was causing hardcore angst to people trying to get home to places Camping animalbeyond Detroit so I considered our rather slight delay as almost an early-departure. The flight itself was fairly uneventful. “Due to the short duration of today’s flight there was no beverage service.” That was fine as well, although I harkened back to previous times than even on DC-10s from Chicago-Detroit we’d actually be FED. But, I digress.

There were a substantial number of people on our MD-88 who had tight connections to destinations both international and to the South. We taxied up to within sight of the gate at about 7:20 p.m. or so. The lady sitting next to me, and her daughter directly in front of her, had a 7:45 connection to Tampa. It showed on Delta’s website to be at gate 31 and we were arriving at Gate 49. I figured she still had time to make it. Then one of the most frustrating things that I’ve ever seen (and worse for the connecting folks) happened. There was, as is often the case, equipment blocking the way to the gate. We waited for the better part of five minutes for one of the ground handlers to saunter out, get into a little tractor truck, exit the vehicle, stand still for a minute or two and then shuffle to the equipment and take his sweet-assed time to connect it to the tug. Then he sat there for another minute or so before driving it to another location. Then he sat there for another minute or two before exiting the tug once more and walking back to the gate area at the speed of a Galapagos Island tortoise before assuming his marshaling positing alongside our approaching aircraft. I assume there was somebody on the other side and the chief marshaller in front. As we taxied toward the Jetway the aircraft made a jolting stop. This happened TWICE. Seems that some other dolts were walking or driving in the path off the arriving aircraft and the captain had to hit the brakes hard so we didn’t hit them.

All this time the gate agent had been waiting to bring the Jetway to the aircraft to at least give the connecting people a competitive chance of getting to their departure gates. (In talking with her later she said she actually had to hunt down a ground handler in the first place and it took her over five minute to do so.) Those of us who were arriving home stayed in our seats to give the already stressed passengers the opportunity to try to get out as quickly as possible. Long story a bit longer, the lady and her daughter I was sitting with exited the aircraft at 7:42…fully 20-25 minutes AFTER we arrived within 50 feet of the arriving gate. All because a bunch of “I don’t give a damn” idiots didn’t feel pressured to do ANYTHING to try to alleviate the stresses and concerns of their own employer’s customers. So much for being grateful to have a job in an economy where so many do NOT.

Idiocy is not confined to the slovenly work ethic of those whose conduct matches what I witnessed last night. (And before I go any further I should mention there are, I’m sure, a LOT of dedicated and caring employees of not only Delta, but all the other carriers as well; I just don’t get the opportunity to see them that often.) What kind of alleged customer service operation, especially one that so globally huge as Delta, consistently turns a blind eye to what seems like a company policy of shuttling equipment to an empty bay when at some point, probably in the near-term, an arriving aircraft is going to need to go there. I’m sick to death of airlines bitching about the high cost of jet fuel and their constant raising of ticket prices to subsidize this bottom-line killer…but a private airplane charter with very thirsty engines will burn who knows how many needless gallons of Jet-A waiting for these alleged workers to come out and move equipment that could have been squired out of everyone’s way in the first place.

I’ll tell you something I’m even MORE sick of. That’s Richard Anderson’s pronouncement in his welcoming film clip, showing us the desk that Delta’s founder, C. E. Woolman, used. And Anderson says, “I get to sit here every day.” Well here’s my advice to you, Mr. Anderson. Get your ass out from behind C.E.’s desk, hike your big-salaried booty out to the line and witness for yourself a few of the things I’ve mentioned in this piece. And don’t go from station to station flying privately, either. FLY YOUR OWN AIRLINE…preferably in coach…and see what the rest of the traveling public has to endure. I’ve been Platinum on this carrier for most of the past decade, meaning I fly at least 75,000 miles each year just on Delta. However, I spend a lot of time in the back of the airplane with not only other Platinums, but an inordinate amount of Diamonds as well (125,000 miles or more on Delta). Upgrades, however, are fodder for another column. Back to this one’s topic.

Had this been the “good old days” before deregulation when there were a lot of carrier choices and pricing was all the same, none of these conditions and disregard for their customers would have been tolerated. If Delta wanted to stick your business up your own ass you could always go to Eastern. If Delta wanted to jam up a gate with equipment that caused you to miss your connecting flight you could always take your business to Ozark. If Delta wanted to squeeze 160 passengers into an aircraft that could comfortably sit 120 you could always take your money and spend it with Continental. The choices were many and the appreciation for your business was evident.

At one time Delta was one of the premier customer-service carriers of the United States. It was almost an honor to be able to fly with them. Now, the only honor left is among thieves…and that’s just what Delta and their colleagues are doing with your travel dollars.

About the author

Scott is the executive editor of Hipster Travel Guide. During the day, he's a journalist in Detroit.