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