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December 29, 2008 01:20 AM UTC

Do we bail out Delta Airlines next?

  • by: DavidThi808

Ok, I know as little about the U.S. car companies as most – ie most of the models they make are not worth considering – but that’s it. Who’s responsible for their disaster, can the present management & workers fix it, etc – no idea.

We are now hearing talk about some of the airlines coming to Washington next with their hand out and their tale of woe. Well here I do have a bit more info to impart as I fly quite a bit. And I think we need to take a close look at why in this case.

Generally I fly Frontier and they are great. Not perfect, but great. I think having an animal on the tail of the plane with each plane named for that animal improves employee morale. There’s definitely something there. And the rest of the time I fly United which is good (no animal on the tail though).

But this past break we flew Delta and what a difference. I won’t go into the items that can be laid to the fact that mistakes happen but rather discusses the systemic problems I saw.

  1. We had reserved seats and the night before the flight my wife checked to see if we could get exit row seats. She found that our seat assignments had been dumped, and seats could not be reserved. She called Delta and they insisted she had not gotten seat assignments (she has the printout to prove she did) and that she could not get seats then – she had to do so at the airport.
    The problem here? Their computer system randomly drops seat assignments and is incapable at times of making seat assignments. This leads to more calls in (ie higher costs) and unhappy customers.

  2. So we get our seats for Denver to Atlanta, but the computer still can’t do seat reservations for Atlanta – Miami. Not even the gate agent can make it happen. But we discover why shortly…

  3. In Atlanta we find that the flight is way overbooked, they are telling all stand-by passengers to go away and that anyone who did not check in at that gate 45 minutes before departure time may not get a seat. So for those connecting they gamed the system to insure that you could not claim a seat and if you were stuck in Atlanta overnight you were on your own.
    What we have here is the system operating as intended, but in a way that is guaranteed to piss off the majority of people flying in order to save a couple of bucks. Being last choice to fly is not a road to success.

  4. They had a single gate agent and this guy was definitely not customer focused. So 2 first class passengers walk up and he tells them to get to the back of the boarding line. They explain that they are flying first class and he tells them he doesn’t care. When I get on the flight I see the woman and her daughter and they look totally pissed. First class passengers are the profit, you nurture them, and these 2 are probably never going to fly Delta again.

  5. Ok, so we get on the plane – all of us. Everyone is boarded and the stewardesses are talking in th aisle about how the flight is supposed to be full – but there are a boatload of empty seats. They count and run out to the gate agent to tell him that there are 22 empty seats. That’s right, they pissed-off all their customers and told all the stand-by passengers to go away when it was totally unnecessary.
    This is a company wrecking level of software problems. (They did manage to fill all the seats except 2.)

  6. We fly down with 2 of my daughters up in the bulkhead row. We get off and they are happy. Very very happy. The 1st class steward spent the flight hitting on them and giving them free booze. That included 2 margaritas for my 19 year old daughter. I don’t know who has legal jurisdiction in the air but whoever it is would probably take a dim view of a steward getting and underage girl drunk.

  7. We have a great vacation and it’s time to go home. We check in fine but on both sides of us are people with major problems and 2 Delta employees working on each to try to figure out their ticket. This both upsets the passenger and adds significantly to Delta’s cost as 2 employees spending 10 minutes to check in a passenger is expensive.

  8. Get on the flight to Denver and arrive at 11:30 pm – and there’s no gate available. Virtually no one’s flying in or out of Denver at that time but they don’t have a gate for 10 minutes.

  9. So we go down to baggage claim and we wait, and wait, and wait. For 45 minutes everyone is waiting for any bags to show up – and the rest of the baggage area is empty. Our flight is it. But no bags forever. How do your baggage handlers do nothing for close to 45 minutes?

  10. The bags come out and ours are not there. So we check with Delta and they say that our bags are still in Atlanta – the computer shows they did not make the flight. We’re filling out the forms when my daughter glances back over at the carousel – and there’s our bags.
    Once again, the computer system has no relation with reality. And Delta was about to add the expense of driving our bags to our home over an hour away by telling us that they hadn’t arrived.

  11. But that was better than the guy there next to us. They told him that the system had no record of his bag and therefore they had no idea where it is. When he asked what to do they just stared at him, then went to help the next person. They wouldn’t tell him what to do.

Two big things strike me here. First is that if you are desperately trying to cut costs, you get the computer systems perfect. Why? Because the cost of a competent programming team getting the software right pays for itself a million times over. But Delta has computer systems that are broken in fundamental ways. Even in a good economy this will guarantee that Delta’s cost or 20% or more higher than their competitors.

The second thing is that the Delta employees just don’t care anymore. They’ve given up and are putting nothing more than minimal effort into their job (clearly including their programmers). Not a single Delta employee we interacted with had any esprit-de-core.

Recessions are necessary to put companies like this out of business. This was a single trip but with a connecting flight both ways we saw and interacted with numerous employees and the Delta computer system multiple times at 3 airports. And it was consistently a mess.

When Delta goes out of business soon (and if they keep operating this way that is guaranteed to happen), it is rough on the employees there – but it is necessary because it is so horribly managed.

Which airline is worst?

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15 thoughts on “Do we bail out Delta Airlines next?

  1. Get ready for a long line of “vital” American companies to start putting their hands out for taxpayer funds whenever the cash flow starts drying up.  I couldn’t rate the airlines, I haven’t flown commercial since 1991.  Frankly, the hassles of flying have overwhelmed any convenience for me.  If my parents (who travel more than I do) want to travel anywhere in the U.S. they will drive there, except in the case of emergencies.

    We have lost major airlines in the past, and yet we still have an airline industry, just like the automobile industry.  If you want to stay in business, then treat your customers like you want them to use you again.  Instead, we seem to be entering a time when your liquidity will be determined by how much you can get from the taxpayers, instead of customers.

    1. Small flights always have crappy animals.  Ooh, the wolf rodent thing again.  Hurray for Tulsa!

      Bastards.  Give me the bunny, the bear, or Larry and I’ll reconsider.

  2. I have a ton of frequent flyer miles on Delta so I decided to use 35 K of them about a month ago for a trip to DC.

    I went to the website to redeem my miles for a ticket and they are now charging a $ 150 “redemption fee”.  With that charge and $ 50 in taxes it cost me $ 200 for my “free” ticket on a flight that costs about $ 290 nonstop (of course on my ticket I had to stop in Minnneapolis).  

    What a way to reward customers for their loyalty and their business with you.

    Now after the trip Delta is sending me E-mails asking if I want to purchase more miles !

    Delta can go fuck themselves.

    1. I too have had nothing but good experiences with Frontier.  The planes are new, the staff is nice, and it is a pleasure to fly with them and I would take them every time if they went where I go.  I really like them and hope they succeed.

  3. Air Tran is by far the worst.  

    Given a choice between flying them to Atlanta (their hub) and walking, I’d walk.

    Horrible seats (like sitting on a brick with a concrete back and barbed wire for a seat belt—and if you are taller than a gnome, you are going to be squeezed in).  Rude service staff.  Rickety planes (they are just rebadged ValueJet).

    They stranded me in Atlanta on a connecting flight a little over a year ago (overbooked and bumped me).  They were not going to be able to get me out for TWO days (this wasn’t a weather thing either).  I ended up buying my own ticket back on Frontier.

    If, God forbid, Frontier goes under, I only hope that Air Tran (who they are a codeshare partner with) doesn’t buy them.

  4. on the other hand, on two occasions I’ve had to make emergency trips home for a member of my immediate family who has become seriously ill.  United has given me their lowest rate for the next flight out with an open ended return.  When I’ve gotten to the airport, every single service staff member I’ve come into contact with has been very supportive and said things like, “My thoughts are with your family.”

    Little things like that–when you are in the midst of a crisis means quite a bit.

  5. I only skimmed your diary when you first posted this and totally missed that.  Hilarious…  🙂

    Delta is HUGE and while they may suck, they’re not going anywhere.  United, Frontier, and others have shown that they can go into Ch. 11 and recover.  There’s no reason for the gov’t to bail them out if they need money.  And didn’t they just merge w/ NWA…who went through Ch. 11 themselves not too long ago?

  6. Myself, I’m not a United fan because it seems like every time I fly them, I wind up getting stranded overnight in Chicago.  The last time, my plane arrived around midnight and all the nearby hotels were booked; they promised me a room about an hour’s drive away, with the understanding that if I wanted to continue on my journey I had to be back at the airport for a 5am flight.  No compensation, and I didn’t bother with the hotel for a <3hr. nap and a two-hour shuttle round trip.

    I haven’t flown Delta in a while, but never had problems when I did.

  7. Was flying from JFK to Denver, and the flight was postponed. An hour at a time (so you couldn’t actually make any future plans). Eventually it was scheduled for 1 am or something, and a couple minutes after 1 am it was canceled.

    Passengers were told to call the 800 number to reschedule the flight, but the operators admitted they had no power to reschedule anything and told us to stand in line instead, where exactly one employee was rescheduling at least fifty people at a rate of two per hour. (Wish I were exaggerating.)

    Of course it would have been extremely difficult and expensive to get a hotel at that hour, and Delta didn’t give half a shit about putting anyone up, so we were stuck sleeping on the terminal floor. Not only were all services closed in their isolated portion of JFK, but there weren’t even any benches.

    The saddest thing was seeing wealthy New Yorkers impotently yelling into their cell phones, threatening to get the media there. As if this were unusual.

    People say government bureaucracies are bad, and sometimes they are, but I’ve never had as bad an experience with any government agency as I had with Delta, along with United, Verizon, and many other huge corporations. But Delta is the worst.

    I think Delta’s entire business is based on those customers who buy cheap tickets on web sites and figure every airline is pretty much the same.

    1. The worst was a guy I met in the airport bar the next day. He’s a doctor who was standing in a Delta line when a woman nearby collapsed. He went to provide medical care to her, which caused him to miss the half-hour-before boarding window for his flight. They wouldn’t reschedule him for another flight for five days.

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