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After my experience with Delta Airlines a few weeks ago I did what I could only do – I complained about it and I blogged about it. I wrote a complaint to Delta Airlines and also submitted that same complaint to the Department of Transportation as well as Airsafe.com. In addition I spoke with the corporate travel person at the company where I work. I figured the best I could get was the satisfaction that I at least complained. Boy was I wrong.

About a week after I filed my complaint I received an e-mail from Delta Airlines apologizing for the problems I encountered on the flight. As compensation Delta was refunding me (or, more precisely, my company) the cost of the original itinerary to Spokane, WA. The next day I received an e-mail with a letter attached from Delta Customer Service again. This time, however, they indicated that they had received a notification from the Aviation Consumer Protection Division over at the Department of Transportation regarding my complaint. As a remedy for the problems I encountered, Delta was now refunding both the original itinerary to Spokane as well as the ticket I had to purchase to return home to DC from Detroit that night and they were awarding me 9500 SkyMiles points as well. I felt happy at that point since I had achieved my goal of getting both tickets refunded as I didn’t believe that my company should have had to pay for either the original itinerary (since I never made it to Spokane) as well as the ticket to return to DC (since I wouldn’t have been in Detroit if Delta had been able to fulfill my original travel itinerary).

The topping to this whole thing came on Friday when the Delta Airlines account manager for my company’s account called me and apologized for the whole situation and gave me a voucher for $400 for any flight in the continental United States as well as moved me up to Gold Medallion status in the Delta SkyMiles program. To be honest, this was quite unexpected, but very welcome. I wish it didn’t have to come this way but I can honestly say that Delta made good on the whole situation by going beyond what I originally expected in compensation for their mistakes that night. I was looking to just get the two itineraries refunded but Delta went one better than that. That’s how customer service should work! Kudos to Delta on this one.

Yesterday I was supposed to fly from Washington, D.C. to Spokane, WA, our corporate headquarters for meetings this week.  My original itinerary had me on a 5PM flight from Baltimore (BWI) to Salt Lake City (SLC) on Delta flight 1347.  En-route, there was to be a plane change in Detroit (DTW) from the DC-9 aircraft of the BWI – DTW leg to a 737 aircraft for the DTW – SLC leg (but the flight number would remain the same however and, as far as Delta was concerned this was one and the same flight – only one “leg”).  The aircraft at Detroit was scheduled to leave at 7:15PM for Salt Lake City.  The total flight time for the BWI – DTW leg was, according to the flight attendant, 1 hr. 41 min from gate to gate.

I arrived at the airport at 3PM (2 hours prior to my flight) and got through security without a problem.  I waited at the gate (C13) for the flight to Detroit and then on to Salt Lake City.  At gate C14 there was another flight leaving at 5:50PM going directly to Salt Lake City and then on to San Diego.  As I waited for flight 1437 I began to hear rumors and whisperings that the flight was delayed till 5:30PM.  Not a problem I thought, I think I could still make the continuation flight.  I went to the gate agent at the counter for gate C13 and spoke to her about my concerns on making the continuation flight.  The agent looked at the situation and said – “You may not make the continuation flight – you probably won’t.”  So, calmly I asked for alternatives to which she replied “Looks like you’ll be staying overnight.”  Of course that’s not what I wanted to hear.  What I wanted to hear was “Let me see if something can be done,” not a “sucks to be you” response (although that’s not what she actually said). So, I went to gate C14 to the direct flight to Salt Lake City to speak to the gate agent in hopes of faring a little better. The agent there was helpful and said – “Let me see what I can do.”  She calls Delta customer service on the phone and tries to get me situation on a different flight from Detroit to Minneapolis/St. Paul and then on to Spokane. Unfortunately the person she speaks with over at customer service screws up her efforts and totally undoes it.  Back to square one.  She was kind enough, however, to put me on the standby list for the Salt Lake City flight leaving from her gate – just in case – but she said that I still had 20 minutes before the flight would close before she would know if she had room for me. I hung out and waited – my original flight was later than expected in arriving and boarding was taking a long time. In the end the direct flight checked in full…no joy there – and I was back on my way to Detroit.

The flight from BWI to DTW boarded and the door was closed at 5:35PM. However we were delayed an additional 25 minutes as the ground crew loaded the bags onto the plane. However they could not figure out how to enter the cargo load in the aircraft into the Delta computer system. In the end we pulled away from the gate at 6:10 PM.  Once the aircraft finally left BWI it arrived at DTW (wheels down) at 7:15PM and we arrived at the gate (A15) at 7:25PM. I was able to exit the aircraft fairly quickly and ran to the gate for the continuation flight (A4) arriving there at 7:30PM.  The aircraft was still parked at the gate however the gate was closed and the agents were gone.

I then went to gate A8 to see if I could get on the flight from Detroit to Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP) but was told I needed to go to the service desk.  I went to the service desk at gate A18 which was unmanned and scanned my boarding pass for the continuation flight of 1347 to SLC into the automated system.  I was provided a boarding pass for the flight from SLC to Spokane (GEG) (flight 3030) and a $6 meal voucher.  At that point I decided to call our corporate travel service to see if they could help.  I spoke to the rep from corporate travel who called Delta and was put on hold.  I gave the corporate travel rep my cell number and he suggested I go speak to another gate agent about this while he waited on hold (the approximate wait time was 20 – 30 minutes at that point).  I went to the gate agent at gate A18 and told her my situation.  She looked it over and told me that I had made the flight from DTW – SLC (the continuation flight from Detroit to Salt Lake City) since I had checked in to which I explained that I did not since I was standing in front of her.  She then told me to go to the service desk at gate A43.

This is where things spiraled downward. I went to the service desk at gate A43 and waited in line for approximately an hour and a half.  During this time in line I spoke to a co-worker who suggested that I get a seat on the Grand Rapids – Minneapolis/St. Paul flight and then continue on to Spokane from there.  I spoke to corporate travel service rep and told him that plan as well as having a need for a car to drive the two hours in the dark to Grand Rapids, MI.  The rep thought it was a good plan and put a hold on seats on those flights.  He also told me that Delta’s customer service representative on the phone with him said that I had to speak to a customer service representative in-person and that Delta’s customer service refused to do anything for me over the phone since, according to Delta, I checked into the flight 1347 continuation flight and therefore I must be on that plane.

At that point it suddenly occurred to me that if I took the Grand Rapids – Spokane flights then my return flights from Spokane on Thursday, June 17th would get canceled.  The rep from corporate travel said that it was very likely that that would happen.  I reached the agent at the service desk at gate A43 and explained to her my situation.  She looked it over and told me that she could only get me on a flight from DTW to MSP for 8PM the following evening (Monday June 14th) and then on to Spokane.  I told her that was unacceptable as I had meetings to attend in the morning and then explained to her the idea of driving to Grand Rapids and flying from there on to MSP and then Spokane.  The agent indicated that if I did that then my return ticket from Spokane to DC would get canceled and all that she could do would be to “document” in the itinerary notes the situation.  If I wanted to try and save that segment I would have to talk to Delta reservations.  I asked her if I could speak to her supervisor and she told me that I could find the supervisor at gate A45.

I went to gate A45 and spoke to the supervisor about the situation and she concurred that as soon as I missed the SLC to Spokane leg that evening my return flight would be canceled and I would have to rebook it through Delta reservations.  The only catch being that in that time someone else might get my seat and I would not be able to get on those flights.  Delta refused to do anything else at that point – neither provide for a hotel room for the night at DTW or any solution whereby I would not be spending an entire day (on top of the 5 hours I had already spent on Sunday) trying to get to Spokane.   It was at that point that I decided I would rather return to D.C. that evening and sort this whole mess out from there.  I spoke to the corporate travel agent and he booked me on the 9:35PM flight from DTW to Reagan National (DCA).  I ran to the gate (A68) and just made it on the plane. Interestingly, Delta held that plane for a full 30 minutes past it’s departure time in order to accommodate late arriving and last minute passengers – now if only they had done that with the plane from Detroit to Salt Lake City I would not be writing this blog entry! In the end I got home at 1:30 AM – nearly 12 hours after this whole escapade began.

It is ridiculous that Delta made little if any effort to accommodate me in this situation and chose rather to claim that I was on the 1347 continuation flight even though it was clearly evident that I was in the Detroit airport.  At this point I’m going to work with our corporate travel folks to see if we can’t get the entire original ticket refunded since Delta failed to meet their contractual obligation to get me to my destination – not due to any fault of my own but through their own incompetence.

Rick Santelli of CNBC said it aptly in his rant on Thursday morning — “The government is promoting bad behavior.” Yes…yes it is. Rick is absolutely correct in his derision of the idea of giving money to people who made bad decisions and bought houses for far in excess of what they could afford. It’s a good rant and I think it’s worthwhile to view it in full

It’s a very populist message and it certainly resonates as we continue to watch our economy crumble, our net worth drop, and face the spectre of unemployment or even foreclosure ourselves. Especially when those facing these problems did nothing wrong, played by the rules, and made reasonable and pragmatic decisions.

However, if we look at the counterpoint as presented by the New York Times columnist David Brooks in his opinion piece this morning titled “Money for Idiots” the government must do something. If we let the foreclosure rate continue at it’s current pace (or go higher) and do nothing than it won’t just be those who made bad decisions and bought houses that were more than they could afford who will suffer. It will be all homeowners — foreclosures drop property values in the surrounding area dramatically as banks look to offload them as quickly as possible. In addition abandoned houses can become havens for criminals or drug users. It affects us all.

In the same way that giving money to the banks when they are the ones who played a large role in creating this mess may seem to be a “bad idea” — if the banks go down the economic hit would be much more severe. And what about the “Big Three”? Detroit has made blunder after blunder and missed many opportunities to innovate and to take the lead in the global competitive marketplace. Why should they get money? Honestly…that’s a harder one to swallow as the demise of Detroit would probably not have as devastating an impact on the economy as we may think. But the economic repercussions (at least on a regional level) would be dramatic and have farther reaching effects given how intertwined the world’s economies are.

No, we must do something to alleviate this and we need to do it in a way that will save the “Losers” and the Idiots who brought us to the edge of this abyss. We are like an economic train…if the last few cars of the train slide off the edge of the cliff, it drags the rest of the train with it. If enough cars fall down then the entire train is lost. There’s a lot of sympathy for the populist sentiment that we should just let these people lose their homes. But what will be the broader and longer term implication if that happens? It’s the same feeling with regards to the bankers and the auto industry executives. The feeling of “You have no one to blame but yourselves” is appropriate and well-deserved but by letting them slide down the hill they will drag the rest of us with them. President Obama is doing the right thing…but he must make sure that the rest of us doing get the short end of the stick or that the “Loser” and Idiots come out ahead. They need to lose as well. And it wouldn’t hurt to “tar and feather America’s 100 leading bankers” as Nicholas Kristof suggests (Kristof, Nicholas, “Escaping the Bust Bowl”, The New York Times, February 11, 2009) but I’d throw in the auto industry executives just for good measure.

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