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The Tribulations of Business Travelling with Delta Airlines
Luis Suarez    

AIrline FailNow that Lotusphere and IBM Connect 2012 are both behind us, and what a truly amazing experience that was altogether!, it’s time for me to come back to the blog and resume those regular blogging activities as before, once again. Lots to share and lots more to talk about! However, and before I get things going covering some of the major highlights from both events and what I learned from them, I would want to put together this blog entry to share with you folks one of those incredibly depressing and horrifying experiences one can get exposed to when doing business travelling: being treated, without much respect, like a mindless object by an airline company on your way home. Yes, indeed, once again, travelling for business has taken a new low for yours truly that I am not sure I would even be capable of recovering from any time soon. And this time around with a different airline from the usual suspects I have been travelling with in the past. An airline that last year was voted #1 US Airline for Business Travellers, but that this year it seems they have soon forgotten about it, including its partners. This time around the culprit is Delta Airlines.

Last year I heard plenty of really good things from colleagues, friends, and fellow biz travellers, about all of the pleasant experiences they kept having with Delta Airlines advising me that the next time I would go to the US I should go ahead and try them out and see what it would be like. So this time around, as I was heading over to Orlando, Florida, for Lotusphere I decided to give them a try and fly with them. That was a big mistake.

The one way trip was absolutely delightful and uneventful. The way business travelling should well be, a standard, even if too long in transit, but very doable. Very friendly staff and really good service all around. And, surprisingly, everything on time!, which, if you folks have been following my recent travelling over the course of the years is something that I do appreciate quite a bit, since it hardly ever happens anymore. However, the roundtrip was a different story. Well, actually, still is, since I’m currently travelling back home having left Orlando on Saturday afternoon and won’t be arriving home till Monday evening, marking a new record for me of an outstanding 58 hours in transit all along! Yes, 58 hours before I can finally be home!

How can that be, you may be wondering, right? I mean, after all, you were flying with #1 US Airline for Business Travellers. Delta Airlines. What happened? Well, a whole bunch of misfortunes, to say the least. That’s right, the following is an approximate account of what happened in the last few hours and although I know that nothing is going to happen about it, nor that I would be worrying much about it anyway, since it was my first time, and last time!, I will be flying with it, and its partners!, I figured I would go ahead and share it along, as a way for me to keep me sane and get it out of my chest before I go crazy thinking how surreal it all was right from the start!

I would probably agree with you folks that what you are about to read further on below is a rant, something that you may all find it a bit surprising altogether, since I hardly do that over here in my blog, but I thought I needed to get it out there as a liberating exercise for yours truly, more than anything else, because I am a firm believer that if you set a certain standard and a concrete set of expectations it’s the least we can expect from you, as a business, that you keep it up and you maintain it. For your own good, not just ours.

Something that perhaps Delta Airlines may have lost with the change to the new year. That’s why I would also share this word of caution with you all and advise you to stop reading, should you not want to muse further on about this experience that has completely changed my perception of what business travelling should be all about. I will try to tame myself as much as I possibly can, since being angry and upset will never take you anywhere, as we all know, specially, in the written form, but there are just some things in life that we, human beings, should no longer tolerate in today’s time and age: being treated like an inanimate object you can shuffle around just like that to suit your own needs. Never mind theirs!

We are all people and we should be all treated as such! And failure to do that implies that what once was a respected and trusted airline, highly recommended by friends and colleagues, is no longer the case. At least, for me. It all starts, like I have mentioned above last Saturday afternoon, when I headed over to Orlando Airport, a.k.a. MCO, to embark on the first leg of two back home to Madrid, then to Gran Canaria (This last leg on a different airline, by the way). Arriving with plenty of time is something I have already gotten used to, since you never know what may happen, so this time around it wasn’t any different. I was there with plenty of time and already with my boarding passes sorted out, ready to embark.

And we did! Full airplane, all tight, still everything on time, surprisingly, till more and more fellow passengers started their own embarking procedures and the first problems arose. It looks like in the US it’s becoming customary, as of late, to board the aircraft with an overweight piece of luggage that most folks consider carry-on, but that in reality it’s just a full suitcase on its own! So when you are on a fully flight, it starts slowing everything down, because every piece of that heavy luggage needs to be towed away properly or checked back in! Which is eventually what happens. Funny enough it looks like people also learned the trick with Delta that if you take your overweight luggage with you by the gate and it weighs too much, they checked it for you for free. How nice! Not …

See? First problem encountered… We left MCO about 30 minutes later than usual and all of my alarms set off dramatically thinking that I barely had another 30 minutes to make it to my second leg of the trip from Atlanta to Madrid, Spain. But I was confident. I just needed to go from one gate to the other and nothing else. I could do it. Still looking good! Of course, those were my thoughts, but reality had other plans reserved for me. When we landed in Atlanta and we were taxying to our corresponding gate we heard from the captain the news that totally destroyed what, till then, was an enjoyable experience somewhat. Apparently, another aircraft was positioned at our very same gate, making it impossible to do any other thing than just wait. And right there, that wait nailed it for me. I have just lost my flight to Madrid. Or may be not …

We finally parked at the gate, or whatever you would call it, and managed to get myself on the front row to get out of the plane as fast as I could, thinking that if my flight to Madrid would be delayed by just a little I would still be capable of making it. You know, what are the chances your flight would be leaving late? Plenty, right? Well, wrong! This time around the plane left on time and you should have seen me running like crazy from Concourse A to Concourse E in just a couple of minutes! I had to make it to that plane whatever it would take! It was my last chance to arriving home by Sunday afternoon. Well, there went my hopes when I arrived at E2 (The farthest point possible!) and my flight to Madrid just left 5 minutes before. Yes missed by a mere 5 minutes!! All of that running and heavy sweating for nothing!! Why did I bother?

Arrrrgggghhhh !!!

The ground staff were very kind and polite in understanding my desperation and advised me to go to the ticket counter where they could try to rebook my trip for the next flight. I knew from before that I would still have a couple of options to flight that Saturday evening. One to Amsterdam and the other one to Paris, from where I could take another flight (A new one altogether) to fly directly home by-passing Madrid. So I arrived at the ticket counter and the nightmare begins… A huge queue just ahead of me, meaning my flight to Paris was already a lost opportunity, since I wouldn’t be able to make it to rebook my flight and take that one that was supposed to be leaving a short while afterwards. It took ages for the queue to clear out itself till I got my turn, by which time the flight to Paris was already on its way out.

So after talking to the affable, sympathetic and rather amicable Lilia, one of the various customer service representatives, I ended up on a cul-de-sac, because she could not rebook me for the flight to Paris, for which I was already too late, and the flight to Amsterdam was already fully booked. Desperation and frustration levels on the rise! And big time! Usually, I am not too bothered if I miss a connecting flight. These things happen on a regular basis, so one gets used to it over time. But this time was different. I needed to fly out that evening to arrive in Europe on Sunday, so I could get back home on that same day as on Monday morning I would need to deliver an online webinar to 100+ fellow colleagues in IBM Switzerland and needed to be sharp and fresh for that presentation since it was going to be broadcasted to a live audience.

Starting to see my stress levels on the rise as well, once more, I asked for the supervisor to offer an opportunity to make it up for the whole mess I was getting into and see if we could get something else going on. After a while I finally got to talk to her and mentioned to her that, in principle, I wouldn’t have a problem flying out on Sunday evening, as long as I would possibly manage to get an upgrade to business class, so that I could very well get a good night rest arriving to Madrid on Monday morning ready for that webinar. Something I thought would not be much of a problem, nor an issue, for Delta to arrange seeing the big mess I was getting into, because of this situation. A regular business traveller, yours truly, was at stake at this point in time to continue flying with Delta or not if things were not going to be resolved accordingly.

Not a chance!

The supervisor insisted that Delta would never do those kinds of upgrades and that, if anything, I would have to content myself with getting on the plane on Sunday evening to arrive on Monday to Madrid on economy and spend the night in Atlanta, after all. Oh oh, trouble ahead, as you can imagine! But then again, maybe not! All of a sudden, I remembered all of these wonderful stories about how social certain airlines have become as of late with an extensive use of social media tools, including Delta Airlines with Delta Assist, KLM and Air France. All three of them partners, as you all probably know by now. So during my conversations with Lilia and the supervisor I engaged with the airlines through Twitter as well on my iPhone (And a rather expensive wi-fi bill of a couple of hours!) and although I never heard back from Air France, I did hear back from both Delta Assist and KLM. Very friendly support, for sure, very sound in their commitment to provide support from afar but after a rather long exchange of tweets and DMs none of the two managed to eventually go the extra mile and help this unfortunate business traveller.

So much hype and buzz for social media and right there, once again, it all failed for me. I was about to cry in desperation knowing that I would have ahead of me the beginning of one of those weeks difficult to forget. But I eventually gave in. Just wanted to go for a much needed rest and get out of the airport as fast as I possibly could. So I asked the supervisor what we would do then as compensation for having missed the connection and she mentioned they would find a hotel for me near the airport, but, surprise, surprise, that I would have to pay out of my own pocket with my own money! Errr, WHAT?!?!? Really? And no voucher for something to eat for dinner that evening, or toiletries to help me get through that night and the following day? Really?

Indeed, NO compensation at all! Yes, that is how you treat your customers, your potential regular business travellers, with empathy and a bit of caring. NOT!! In fact, the supervisor stared at me baffled enough about what I asked for that she suggested, no, wait, she made a reservation for a 47$ per night hotel room, as I seemed to protest having to pay for my own hotel room!, in what I would probably call a motel, according to what I saw. So embarrassing that I wanted to take pictures of it, since I just couldn’t believe it, but it was just so disgusting that I refrained from doing so. And what’s worse, around 4:30am in the morning I had to call reception and protest about the huge, loud noises from people on the corridor at what seem to be quite some wild party! Right, just what I needed!

Without hardly any good sleep, the Sunday morning came along and I thought I would, at least, try to advance some work related stuff, before I would be taking my flight back home in the evening. No. That didn’t happen. Apparently, the hotel free wi-fi was out of service for a couple of days due to the weather conditions and the staff didn’t have much of an intention to try to address it before I would be leaving again, so I decided to freshen up as much as I possibly could with a bar of soap and head back to the airport, where, yes, I would have to pay for the wi-fi and all, but, at least, it was working, so I could get some stuff done.

And after having spent the whole day at Atlanta airport, working along, I finally embarked on my evening flight to Madrid, in economy, hoping to be in almost a half piece for tomorrow’s (Monday) webinar. And that’s where I am at this moment, while I am putting together this draft blog post. Somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, hoping to arrive in Madrid at 9:15am approximately (Now writing further on into the future we arrived at 9:45am … 30 minutes late! Again!), without any other option than spend the day in Madrid since my next flight to Gran Canaria would be colliding with the online event I need to host and having to book a hotel room to try to get some rest, deliver the online session, head again to the airport and, hopefully, embark on what I hope would be the last leg before arriving home.

Home sweet home…

58 hours later, from last Saturday afternoon, when I left Orlando, I am hoping to be home, perhaps with a jetlag I can’t probably remember in my entire life and which is going to take me days to recover from (First time in my life!); with a much deteriorated physical and mental body and perhaps much worse with what promises to have been quite a horrifying experience for any road / air warrior out there, because throughout the whole weekend I didn’t get a single sorry nor an apology for the inconvenience, not even an understanding of the disastrous consequences of not having enough rest to deliver an online education event where one needs to be sharp and ready and not a single bit of compensation on something that they clearly messed up themselves in the first place!

One thing, for sure, I no longer expect a response. Nor an apology, or a sincere token of gratitude to compensate for the damage done and incurred. It’s already too late for me. I am usually very patient with these kinds of things, since, like I said, they happen far too often, but they say you only have got a single chance to leave a first good impression on someone and somehow Delta Airlines, along with KLM and Air France, since they are all now partners and on the same boat altogether, just managed to mess it up and big time. And, even more, they have all proved, and rather well, that some times, even social media isn’t invincible or that magic solution that will get you out of trouble. At least, for me, which, as a social computing evangelist, I find extremely disappointing, since what could have promised to be quite an amazing success story, it turned out to be one of my worst nightmares to date, with regards to travelling.

Thanks ever so much, Delta Airlines (KLM & Air France), once voted #1 US Airline for Business Travelers, which I can certainly start to wonder now, for proving, once again, how broken the airline industry is at the moment and why I keep longing and anticipating for a massive, much needed, reboot of the system. That same industry most of us once loved, but that we cannot longer say the same. Your days are numbered. No doubt about it after this weekend’s experience.

Like I said, Delta, don’t bother to respond, engage or reply to this blog post. It’s out of my head now, and out of my body system, too, I hope. Thanks to this experience I will no longer plan to fly with you, nor your partners, in the next foreseeable future. Oh, and please, do allow me to wish you plenty of good luck on your journey to become a true social business, because, right now, you are far from it. At least, according to yours truly, your customer

As my body and intellectual soul continue to ache just half way through the ordeal of reaching home sweet home…


Oh, by the way, the whole crew from flight DL108 is absolutely wonderful, with a special mention to Rosa, who has just brought me a lovely cup of freshly made coffee, so that I could finish this blog post while on the plane, since I just can’t get to sleep due to how tired I am… Thanks much, mi muy adorable Rosa! I needed it! :-)

Jan 23, 2012
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