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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Delta blues.

A lot of people died today as a result of the tornadoes that hit the South, so it’s hard for me to complain about having to sleep overnite in an Atlanta airport (on amazingly comfortable blue chairs). But, venting is in order. The weather affected many airlines here, not just the Delta flights I was on earlier or the one I was trying to get on tonight. That shot is the line for rescheduled flights.

Thing is, this was the third major trip on Delta I took in the past month, and disasters aside, they have issues to work out, including how well they’re able to put the Del in delay.

Of course no airline is immune from weather-related delays or customer service issues, but the ATL is Delta’s hometown. The excuse that I got around 3:30 am when they finally cancelled the flight was one I didn’t think they’d revert to, but they did: “Well, people died today.”  Good to know. Except, what was the excuse when weather wasn’t an issue the last two times they changed flights on me.

Acknowledging that point of the human toll though, I was still one step away from being *that guy* who goes off on the unsuspecting attendant. (Cue Steve Martin in Planes, Trains & Automobiles.) The person also suggested that the weather caught them off guard.

Time out. This is your central hub, yet they didn’t think storms *might* be an issue?

So the list of things that went wrong gets... longer. As I write this, the alarm at the unoccupied Delta desk behind me has been going off for 45 minutes now, while one Delta employee ignored it and told me he wasn’t open yet. half the flight I'm on though were laying on chairs trying to catch an hour of sleep. Not possible.

There was no one single problem that made the day awesome, but if there was one thing that needs improving, it’s information... or lackthereof. Nobody seemed to know anything. (Getting announcers at gates who can be understood would be a nice fix.) The problem is that flights were so cancelled so late that people couldn’t get a hotel.

As I mentioned up top, people died, and my inconvenience pales in comparison, but Delta has come off this month (and tonight) like this was their first week in business. Nothing in the Delta food chain seemed to go right. Except that, they should’ve been able to deal with weather delays.

No hotel rooms available? Have cots around for people. Offer food vouchers. Keep people informed constantly. We had a pilot working the desk at one point who was able to call a friend to track FlightView and tell us where the diverted planes were. He alone did more than any attendant.

Delta attendants though are clearly overworked. One person handling ticketing issues, checking passengers in and assisting other gate attendants with their flight issues is not enough. When problems happen – and they do to anyone – people don’t blame a brand if they can at least get answers. We got updates via cell after the fact, or customer service survey prompts asking what we thought of our recent trip.

Large brands in social media have a problem, as their size almost always dictates what their social course of action will be. In this case, industries such as travel or mobile carry with them the burden of being exclusively focused on customer service issues. (I didn’t need to go to Twitter to find out about delays as I was right there watching the monitor like a hawk. Besides, if their social group has any chops, this post will probably find its way onto their radar.)

Shit happens to any brand and nobody expects miracles. But what they do expect is that someone will tell them what’s going on.

(Update... my strategic compadre who sat next to me the whole time has a far more eloquent take.)

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