My Delta Airlines Experience: Where Did All The Humans Go?

Sit back and relax as this one is a bit on the long side. While it is certainly a rant, I close out the post with a few thoughts on being human. I talk about what organizations need to do if they intend on being around for decades to come. I hope you’ll stick around.Delta

My (Terrible) Delta Airlines Experience

It all started when I tried to change my departure city from Salt Lake to San Francisco. Due to Delta’s policies (and the type of ticket I had originally purchased), it was going to cost me $150 plus the increase in fare of $800+. In other words, I would have had to pay more than triple my original fare to change my ticket. Seemed kinda silly to do. Next, I asked the Delta “Customer Service” rep if I could just cancel the first leg of my flight (SLC-BWI) and reuse the miles at a later date. I was told this was fine, but I’d have to pay the $150 change fee (not sure what I was changing) in addition to the fare increase of $400+ going from a round-trip ticket to a one-way. Again, this seemed like a bad financial decision on my part. It’s also important to note here that not one of the Delta reps I spoke with was really interested in helping me. In fact, one of them kept saying to me, “Ready to book? Ready to book?” Fun.

Strike One.

I ended up booking another non-Delta flight from SF to Baltimore … on my own dime. The fun really started the night before my Baltimore-SF return trip. For some reason, when I tried to check-in online, indicated that my reservation did not exist. I called the 800 number on the site. After being on hold for nearly 20 minutes (due to high volume of calls … at 11:30PM), I hung up.

Strike Two.

I figured maybe I would have more luck if I dialed the “special” number for Delta Sky Miles members. This time, after a few rings a recorded message told me that due to high volume (again, 11:30PM), they were unable to take my call and to “try again later.” The phone went dead. Yes. They hung up on me.

Strike Three.

I called back a third time, waited on hold for 15 minutes, was told by the agent that my flight was canceled because I didn’t take the first leg of the trip. I asked to speak with a manager. Hold: 10 minutes. The “manager” spent the next 15 minutes blaming me, telling me it was *my* fault. He told me that my only option was to buy another full-fare ticket. That’s it.

Strike Four.

So now it’s after midnight, 8 hours before the flight that I paid for was set to leave (the one Delta canceled) … and I was stranded in Baltimore. Of course, I decide to vent on Twitter. I fired off a few frustrated tweets. Immediately, I was met with sympathy from the community. Several folks even jumped in and zinged Delta publicly on my behalf. Comforting, but it didn’t help me get back to San Francisco. @Delta did not reply. I did not expect them too as it was well into the middle of the night. I was upset, but I am also reasonable to know that they don’t monitor their Twitter account 24/7.

I decided to send an email through A copy of the email is below.

I’m frustrated. 60 minutes ago, I attempted to check in for my BWI-SFO flight. I received an error on indicating that my flight no longer existed. I called the 1-800 number and waited on hold for 15 minutes. I hung up. I called the Sky Miles # thinking it may be faster. The recording told me that “due to high call volume” they were unable to answer my call and to call back later. I called back 5 minutes later, waited on hold for 10 minutes and finally spoke with a human. Mind you that this was 11:30PM on a Wednesday night. I can’t imagine the call volume is really that high.

I speak with a Delta rep who informs me that my flight was canceled b/c I didn’t show up for the first leg of my flight (SLC-BWI). As it turns out, I tried to call Delta before that flight. Both times I spoke with someone who was less than helpful. I was trying to change the first leg of my ticket from SLC-BWI to SFO-BWI. I was informed that it would cost me a $150 change fee plus an additional $1,000. Considering my original RT ticket was $432, I didn’t think that was a logical choice for me. The 2nd person I spoke with told me that if I wanted to change my ticket (not fly the first leg), I’d need to pay a $150 change fee plus $500 (difference between RT and now one-way ticket). Clearly this did not make economical (or logical) sense.

I ended up finding an alternate ticket from SFO-BWI.

Let me be clear on this: Never once was I informed that by not showing up for my SLC-BWI flight would my RETURN flight be canceled. Nobody emailed. Nobody called. Nobody told me when I was on the phone telling them this was my plan. On top of that, when I finally got through to a customer service person this evening and was told my flight was canceled, I asked to speak with a manager. This individual informed me that it was my fault and there was nothing he could do to help. I’d have to pay the $150 ticket change fee as well as any fare increase.

So. After dealing with Delta for over an hour now, I am now stuck. Out of luck. No flight. Nobody from Delta is willing to help … unless I cough up more money. I’d really like to speak with a Delta rep who can help me get back to SFO tomorrow – May 13th. I can be reached at the number below.

DJ Waldow

I then went to bed with every intention of speaking with a Delta rep – face to face – at BWI a few hours later. When I get to the airport at 6AM, I found the following email in my inbox:

Dear Mr. Waldo,

Thank you for your e-mail to Delta Air Lines.

We apologize for the inconvenience you have experienced.

Prompt telephone answering is critical in our business, and we recognize that any delay can be frustrating. The number of telephone calls we receive is carefully monitored so that we can take the necessary steps to prevent the problem you described. We would like to inform you that we are unable to call you from our e-mail office.

Please let us know the nature of your concern so that we may reply accordingly. If you have some questions, which require verbal communication, we request you to contact our Domestic Reservations at 800-221-1212 or International Reservations at 800-241-4141. A representative will be glad to assist you.

Please accept our apology for the unfavorable impression you received in this instance. We appreciate your selection of Delta and will always consider it a privilege to be of service.


Ryan Stalon
Online Customer Support Desk

I fired back a few emails…


The nature of my concern? Really? I’m pretty sure I outlined it in my email below. What is he point in detailing my issue via email only to have you reply asking what my issue is. Strike 4 for Delta. Please have someone call me ASAP at 919 xxx xxxx. I’m unclear why you are unable to call from your office.

… followed by …


Also, the proper spelling of my last name (per my original email) is Waldow … not Waldo. Please forward my email to someone at Delta who can address my concerns … in a department that is able to call back SkyMiles members. My disappointment with Delta continues…

This is not a knock on “Ryan Stalon” by any means. He is simply following the script. The reply seems pretty canned to me. The fact that the correspondence ended there is what was even more disappointing. No reply email – just a response telling me to call. Really?

Too Little, Too Late.

Continuing the story, I ended up flying standby on a United flight and made it back to SF. When I landed, I had a voicemail from “Jim Bercher” from Delta Airlines. He said,

I got your email this morning and I was noticing that there was an agent error on our part. What I’ve attempted to do is reissue a ticket for you departing Baltimore later this afternoon …

The message continued with the flight details and confirmation number. To Jim’s credit, he also called my work number to try and track me down. The only problem is that it was too late. I had already purchased another ticket on another airlines. Too little, too late. Also, Jim did not give me a number to call back – just the main reservation line.

Also, @Delta (Twitter) replied back asking me to DM with details. We exchanged a few tweets (public and private). There really wasn’t much they could do at this point as I was in phone and email communication with several Delta reps. On a positive note, the woman managing the @Delta Twitter account was super nice … and human. We swapped new baby stories via DM.

By the time I got back to SF, I was done with Delta. They had canceled my flight, been rude to me on the phone, and not answered my emails. Jim was helpful over the phone, but it was too late. Next up was trying to figure out what had actually happened and seeing if Delta could help me moving forward.

I called the main Delta number, clicked zero 14 times to speak with a real person and finally spoke with a rep. After explaining the situation (there was no record of any of my previous conversations with Delta), I was told that this was a “customer service issue.” But of course. This guy was in reservations. How could he help me (note sarcasm)? I asked for the Customer Service phone number. I was told that there is “no direct number for Customer Care.” Holy son of a … gun. Really?

The rep transferred me another unhelpful, borderline rude Delta reps. After getting nowhere, I asked to speak with a manager. Finally, a real human with empathy: “Kathy T.” Kathy listened to my story, empathized, apologized for the other reps and the situation, explained why it happened and how they would resolve it, and was generally very helpful. At the end of the day, I have a “credit” of $425.60 (original fare) minus the $150 change fee. I net out at $275.60. The price I paid for skipping the first leg of my flight.

Where Delta Went Wrong

The list is long, but let me highlight a few areas.

  1. Read from a script: This was apparent in every single conversation I had with Delta, with the exception of Kathy T. I explained my situation, the rep found the spot in the “Customer Service” manual that best matched what I was saying, and vomited back the answer.
  2. Had a silly policy that was not communicated: I’ve been flying for 30+ years and have never heard of an airline canceling a flight if you miss the first leg. After speaking with a few others (my dad included), apparently this happens. If that’s the policy, fine. It’s silly. It’s stupid. But a policy is a policy. I bet Delta could make that a bit more clear on their site. Also, I told the Delta rep that I was going to skip my first flight and they never once warned me that my return would be canceled.

Why Southwest Airlines Still Wins

It’s no secret that I love Southwest Airlines. Love. Of course I love their “Bags Fly Free” policy and their super-easy-to-use website and iPhone app. I also love the fact that when you call they tell you exactly how long it will be until a rep answers the phone. They even give the option to key in your phone number to have a rep call you back. Brilliant! But, what I really love about Southwest Airlines – and why they still win – is the people. They are humans. They don’t read from a script. They don’t have silly policies. They made it easy (and fun) to fly.

I went to book a Rewards ticket the other day and the SWA rep told me about a way to save money doing it. When I told him that our 8-week old would be flying, he offered to babysit. The next SWA rep I spoke with stayed on the phone with me while I booked my fight online because she wanted to be sure everything worked as expected. We also spoke about her boyfriend, her family, her career at SWA. I shared personal information with her; she returned the favor. Just a few humans having a real conversation.

Humans. Humans. Humans.

This blog is all about people as the tagline indicates. I do my best to make it about the good – to tell positive stories. Sometimes, I just need to vent. Thanks for sticking around to hear me out. The concept of “being human” is not a new one. I think that part of the issue is that in our need to cut costs, we streamline all processes to strip the human out of people. We create scripts so that any idiot can read them. We make it so people do not have to think. I’m reading Seth Godin’s Linchpin for the second time now (highlighting sections this time around). Godin talks about cogs and factory workers. He’s spot on. The companies that are going to survive and thrive in the next 100 years are those who employ humans; those who empower their employees; those who encourage their employees to think on their own (with guidance).

Delta: Do you plan on being around for another 100 years?

DJ Waldow

Tuong Huynh
Tuong Huynh

I just have bad experience with Delta airline and want to share with you also. I bought round trip tick from SLC to LA. I want to go to LA 2 days earlier so I call to see if I can change the ticket. Delta told me that I have to pay $74 more + $150 for changing ticket. I checked Southwest one-way ticket , it is $110 therefore I buy Southwest one-way ticket. Then I call Delta for canceling my trip from SLC to LA but want to keep the return trip. Delta person told me I have to pay $45 more. I asked why I have to pay more. She say because round trip is cheaper than one-way :). Then I told her are you serious ? she told me "you have to pay because your ticket is nonrefundable?" Do you think it is related ? But I don't want to discuss more with her. I accepted tp pay more but will send feedback to Delta and let people know that Delta is suck.


Stefan Tevis
Stefan Tevis

I recently had to endure the most disgusting behaviour ever experienced from a Delta air-stewardess travelling from London to the United States.

I have been fortunate to have travelled to some 52 countries and have flown with more than 34 different airlines worldwide.

On this occassion, I was not feeling well and as the plane was only half full I requested not once but twice to this particular woman that as there happened to be a section in the middle with three seats unoccupied that I would appreciate if I could lay down and sleep horizontal. This request was completely ignored. I then, requested after waiting 1 hour and been to the toilet twice, from a different air stewardess, if I may utilise a 3 seat vacant section towards the middle of the plane where the screen projector is situated and the permission was granted immediately, which needless to say, I was eternally grateful as by this time I had been to the toilet twice to be sick and quite frankly my neighboring seat occupier

had been concerned and had got involved by summonsing water.

The pleasant stewardess had moved a holder bag type case and placed it in the

overhead compartment of that empty section and placed a couple of blankets over

me as I was feeling feverish.

The rude and obnoxious stewardess then came over and started to raise her voice as to why I had moved her bag. She was ranting and raving that she would not listen to my answer and purely and utterly assumed it was me who had placed her bag overhead.

She then reported me for lying down in a seat(s) that weren't allocated to me and that I had ruined her bag by squeezing it into the overhead locker!!

On arrival at Cinncinatti I was reported to Security, who in turn initially believed her

outrageous story and I was treated as if I was a Terroist. I was nearly handcuffed

and escorted off the plane, which was extremely embarrassing and totally unecessary and wrong. Once I had been given the chance to explain myself to

the Head of Security, which I assume he had to get verification from numerous witnesses, I was very politely treated with lots of apologies and escorted back to my seat.

I eventually got over my fever, a week later, but was too busy and I had forgiven

the obnoxious stewardess, to bother with complaining at the time. However, I came across your site and felt that my story had to be told as it appears that

Public Relations and Commonn Decency in remembering that the client is always right, seems to be non - existent with this very unprofessional circus in the sky.!!! Air Line

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Wow. What a crazy story. Very sorry that happened to you. Did you ever hear back from anyone at Delta? Apology? Anything?



My nightmare with delta was like being forced to hell. I had my first flight on delta from clt to jfk and onto Dakar. The flight was cancelled from clt to jfk and the agent refuse to offer me another flight to nyc saying that the jfk-dkr flight is also cancelled. That was a lie. I had to insist on being rebook on another flight to nyc even if its LGA just to make it to the dkr flight. She delayed that decision till the last moment and I ended up not making it that day to nyc. the worst part is that there are only two flts per week to dkr from jfk, meaning I have to wait for four days to be booked.

They refuse to compensate me for their own fault, I insisted for hotel accommodation and after a long fight with the supervisor, I got a nite stay for a four days wait.

Well the day came for my new flight and after I have been checked in with DL, I had some misunderstanding with security regarding my travel document and I was refused boarding. Apparently, my bags had already gone on to nyc. One of their agents promised me with a valid flt # and time that my bags will return that nite. Went to the airport just to find out that that request has never been sent. NO BAGS. Another promise that they will return the next day, came the arrival time of it, NO BAGS... Next promise last flt from jfk, am waiting to see what will happen.

Even to ask DL ticketing agents to cancel my flt as I WILL NEVER FLY THEM AGAIN, I instead got a flight confirmation in my email moments I requested a cancellation. Its unbelievable the inhumanly service and care free customer service you receive from delta staff.

I sincerely agree with you about their horrible service and do hope they go bankrupt soon.


Post Ice, DJ. My guess is Delta will not be there for the long term .... at least not if they continue with their current level of "service." I'm with you ... I almost exclusively fly Southwest Airlines and American Airlines. You're there in the human being is what it's all about ... companies will realize that almost always (South West has clearly understood) and companies that will not die. That's one thing I like about the media ..... the ball is on the side of consumers. Delta has lost more than one client, my friend.


Stupid missed 1st leg policy.
There is a slight chance that I'll miss the 1st leg of my multi-leg trip. I don't want Delta cancelling the whole trip if If I do. After reading your post, I'm going to book that 1st leg as a seperate trip, just in case. I just hope they will let me check bags to my final destination, since it will be done across 2 tickets. Thank for the Head's up.


I got fed up with them yesterday, and posted a page, Then found yours - how similar! Worst airline ever.


I love this post and it all comes back to old fashioned customer service and ineteracting with clients as you would want to be treated. I've had a couple difficult airline experiences, but nothing major and thankfully they were resolved. My favorite airline is Alaska Air, partially because they do seem the most "human" out of all airlines I've used for years. Although I will say my last flight I went to Customer service for a simply inguiry and was Snapped at by the lady behind the counter. I brushed it off and assumed maybe she was having a bad day and let it go. Thankfully I wasn't in any real need of help, otherwise I think that experience would of required a letter to Alaska air.
I believe customer service in the Travel industry should be #1 priority! I found this recently with a new booking company I used and immediately wrote a post on them after the Extraordinary service I got from a not so pleasant stay at a Lodge I booked through them. Here is the BETTER side of customer service and maybe something Delta should read on...


I have a great Delta story to add to yours. Unfortunately, I am still living mine!

After being delayed for 7 hours In Atlanta with my 6, 5 and 2 year old children and landing at 2am in a different airport than we had planned to land, we learned the next day that ALL five of our checked items were gone.

Initially it was unclear where they were - then it became apparent that three went to JFK in NY, one went to LGA in NY and one remained in Atlanta. We flew into White Plains NY but were originally supposed to fly into LGA. No idea why the bags ended up at JFK.

When I called to try to get the bags sent to me I was told that I would have to come to all the airports and retrieve them one by one. I complained that this was their fault and I wasn't going to drive to three or more airports to get my bags. They said I hadn't filled out the paperwork when I landed in White Plains so it was just too bad. I explained that the airport in White Plains was technically closed when we landed at 1:45am so there was no one there to do any paperwork with or even ask. I asked for a supervisor and was told by a woman who was so clearly trained in trying to placate people and did it in such a terrible way that it just made me madder, that there was no one higher than her on that phone line. Then she gave me a number to Delta's corporate headquarters in Atlanta where the phone system says it is full and can't take your call and hangs up on you.

At this point furious and frustrated, I turned to AMEX to help me. They were lifesavers, got the paperwork needed and became my interface with Delta. The hold time at Delta was regularly between 1-2 HOURS to get a person on the phone. The automated system said I had 9 bags - although I had checked 5 - not 9. The representatives regularly changed their story.

Over the course of the past few days I've had so many stories told to me I can’t keep track – I’ve heard that I have somewhere between 5-9 bags depending on who you ask, they have been missing, located at four airports, enroute to me for days apparently, trying to be reunited, at warehouses, etc. There is virtually nothing that has synched up between facts and what has been relayed to me.

The customer service was terrible and the fact that it was impossible to even get a person on the phone was beyond maddening. I had to pay an additional $100 on top of the $100 for the cab from the airport because no car seats had made it to the other end and clearly the person who had offered to pick me up didn't at 1:45am and it's illegal for a limo service to take little kids without the right seats - liability I guess.

No one from Delta has at any point offered to pay for anything or do anything in the way of compensation or apology. NOTHING. I am a frequently flyer with tens of thousands of miles and was treated like someone that they really don't care to have fly with them anymore.

I suspect no one from Delta will ever respond - seems to be their style. I have told everyone that they should upgrade to an AMEX platinum card because in this case, they have been my only ally and I largely credit their persistence in navigating this. They also ensure your bags even without buying travel insurance!

One friend who I told my story to did a little google research and learned that there is a 1 in 138 chance of having your luggage lost so having all 5 pieces misplaced was actually a 1 in 50 BILLION chance - I have a better chance of winning the lottery apparently. So it's sort of amazing to me that if this happens once every 50 BILLION passengers, that no one has offered to do anything!

Just thought I'd share!


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Randy Dunning
Randy Dunning


Clicked over to the comments just to see if, after a few weeks, a Delta rep might have caught wind of your post and left a comment.

No such luck.

So many missed opportunities, and to think that any one person could have turned it around. A good lesson/cautionary tale. Thanks for sharing.

Summer Joy
Summer Joy

Mr. Waldo--I would like to comment but I am currently looking in my blog comment manual for the proper response.

Kidding of course. It makes me think of the statement "the customer is always right." Obviously that statement is bunk. The customer cannot ALWAYS be right. That's ridiculous. Having said that, the company should at least make you FEEL like you are at the end of the day. Maybe it WAS their policy to cancel your flight. Does a policy exist in the consumers eyes if it is not clearly communicated? When refunding you or crediting you, it should have been done leaving you feeling like it was a shared responsibility and that they would "shoulder" the bulk of the blame. Make you FEEL like the valued Sky Miles Member that you are.

Letting the customer be right and allowing them to FEEL like they are right---this is the difference between creating a Delta brand loyalist or the next SWA champion.

Nice post DJ...

[email protected]


I had a similarly awful experience flying Delta last October (granted, I was flying back on a Sunday night through Atlanta, which is not a good idea). They overbooked Hartsfield-Jackson's runways and had to land our plane out on the tarmac and bus us to the terminal. So, of course my connecting flight was at a terminal on the opposite side of the airport. I missed my connection and Delta basically said "sorry." No offer to put me in a hotel for the night since the likelihood of getting another flight out that night seemed slim. We did end up sweet-talking a Delta rep at the airport into getting us onto a flight at 11pm that night. And we have a $100 Delta credit for future use (for our troubles) that I've yet to use don't plan to use. My one and only Delta flight in probably the last 5 years. I've flown SWA about 20 times in the last 10 years and not had any issues. Not one. Because they're, as you say, humans.

Jaren Angerbauer
Jaren Angerbauer

Nice write up DJ. Way back at the beginning of my career, I worked for Continental Airlines, and as an added benefit, it (now) gives me great insight into airlines and the myriad of rules that apply to airfare ticket purchases.

Unfortunately, it's a common practice for *many* airlines to cancel the itinerary of a purchased ticket when the first leg of travel is not completed. The logic behind this is that an (unused) ticket can be used towards the purchase of a future trip. In other words, if Delta had not canceled your itinerary, and kept it in the system (and reserving a seat) even though you weren't actually on the plane, you would have been charged for that flight segment -- which also would complicate the process for re-using the ticket later.

I don't know if that make sense, and perhaps the "agent error" response from Delta was due to this not being communicated correctly (or at all, which is more what I believe -- this stuff is *very* fine print).

I also like Southwest, but to get across the country it takes way too many hops.


Excellent post, DJ. Delta is not alone in the "let's save money by making it hard for our customers jump through hoops to engage with us" approach. Having worked in the travel/tourism industry for 10+ years, I know that everything is about the guest experience from the first touchpoint (research/communication in planning phase) to the memories.

Delta made their first mistake in communicating their policy in the "planning" phase. I am sure that if you would have known the "miss your first-leg, cancel the second-leg" policy when you booked, you probably would have done things differently. So the question now is how can we communicate the guest experience from the beginning?

I agree that Southwest Airlines does this better than anyone in the industry. From their engaging tweets to humorous blog posts/videos, they showcase what the SW company culture us built upon.

Baby Jack and I are flying on Delta tomorrow... hopefully we'll have a better experience!

Chris Moody
Chris Moody

Awesome post dude.

I've shared a similar experience I had with GoDaddy and The Office of the President called me within an hour or so. He was human, talked to me, explained what happened and gave me a partial refund even though it was my error according to policy.

I was happy and bought more domains from them that night.

Businesses being personal is critical these days.

Mic Johnson
Mic Johnson

Nice post, DJ. My hunch is Delta won't be around for the long least not if they continue their current level of "service". I'm with you...I almost exclusively fly Southwest Airlines and American Airlines. You are spot on in that being HUMAN is what it's all about...companies that figure that out will be around forever (Southwest clearly has it figured out) and companies that don't will die. That's one of the things I love about social media.....the ball is firmly back in the consumer's court. Delta just lost more than one customer, my friend.