We are coming up on the one year anniversary of the integration of NorthWest Airlines into Delta Airlines after their merger about two years ago. As much as people liked to fuss about "NorthWorst" little did they know it could get worse. I became a frequent flier, and a rather loyal one at that, with NorthWest, back in 1994. Since that time, I had far more good experiences than bad. For the most part, if they lost (aka "misrouted") my luggage, it was delivered to me within four hours. If they were oversold on a flight, they were generous with the "bump" money.
All airlines have to deal with weather issues and mechanical problems so when those things happen, I’m more than happy that they do what they need to do to assure safe travel for the traveling public. Since the merger of NWA into DL, I must say, things have not been smooth flying for me. Maybe it is because they have reduced the overall number of flights and routes thereby driving aircraft capacity to the max. Or perhaps it is simply that with the union concessions and other labor issues, they have lost sight of the customer. I would hypothesize that "Frankly Scarlett, they don’t give a damn."
Case in point this trip for a three-day weekend home to Virginia. My 7:00am DL flight out of Milwaukee was delayed more than two hours for the most ridiculous of reasons . . .
"a minor maintenance issue" that the inbound crew reported when they brought in the aircraft the night before but apparently the maintenance crew at Mitchell Airport (MKE) decided to let the morning crew worry about it. When the flight crew arrived and began their checks of the aircraft they brought in the night before, they realized their maintenance report was not addressed.
It took obtaining a part from elsewhere (I’m assuming on an inbound flight from one of their hubs) and then making the repair. It was not good that the Milwaukee maintenance crew did little to nothing to address the issue; it was worse that the Delta pilots completely threw them under the bus with 100+ passengers boarded and ready to head off to Atlanta. The groans were audible throughout the cabin.
Next up in this fiasco was the gate agents and the people left to address the mob of frustrated passengers, many of whom had tight connections in Atlanta. Hell even my two hour layover was not going to be enough. With all of this turmoil, you would expect there to be more than one agent available to assist passengers requiring rebooking. I also expected that they would have rolled out the little red rebooking cart that would enable folks to call Delta directly for assistance.
I was about 30 deep in the line for gate assistance to rebook when I got through by cell phone. After 15 minutes, I was taken care of and rebooked on a later flight into Newport News/Williamsburg with an anticipated 3:20p arrival time (about an hour and a half later than originally scheduled). With earlier air traffic control issues (A power outage? Are you kidding me?), flights throughout the Atlanta system were delayed. I eventually got out of Atlanta and into Newport News/Williamsburg at 4:10pm. Ironically, we had a 15 minute gate delay because the flight attendants couldn’t find the demo safety equipment. To his credit, the pilot did come on the mike to let us know his mea coupa and that we’d be taken care of quickly.
When my weekend was over and it was time to return to trust Delta to get me back to Milwaukee, I learned that they had an early morning flight cancelation out of Atlanta essentially overbooking all of the DL flights out of Richmond for the day. My flight was already overbooked and I knew it days ago. When I arrived at the airport, I asked the ticket agent about giving up my seat for a later flight. She said I would need to keep my current arrangements as there were no other flights that would get me to Milwaukee on the same day.
Once there was a gate agent at my gate, however, she was more than happy to accept my volunteering of my seat and made arrangements to get me on US Airways through Philadelphia, out an hour later than my previous scheduled arrival time. Not bad, and $400 for my troubles. I may use my travel voucher for my Kenya trip next summer, or perhaps that Las Vegas trip David and I have been talking about.
A few lessons learned . . .
1. Atlanta adds NOTHING to the former NorthWest hub system. It was always bad enough to know you’d have weather related issues in the winter connecting through Minneapolis and Detroit. Now passengers can look forward to summer-hell with weather in Atlanta.
2. Keep your travel plans fluid and you can use their issues to your advantage. I was happy that I had the flexibility to go home later on Sunday night so that I could offer up my seat for the $400 travel voucher.
3. Be patient. I know when flights don’t happen the way you need for them to, the way that you counted on them for, it can make for a painful travel experience. More often than not, it’s not the gate agent’s issue or even the pilot’s. Unfortunately, however, they are poorly equipped to deal with such issues and generally make things worse and not better.