TO:  Delta Airlines

RE:  Luggage Debacle, Skymiles #2242857007

 

August 7, 2019

 

To Whom It May Concern:

As is usually the case, I received via email an invitation to share my feedback on my experience flying Delta from Nassau, Bahamas to Kennedy Airport in New York.  I am accustomed to these emails, as I fly Delta a lot, and I normally rate the company highly based on cursory performance expectations outlined in the survey.

I was so enraged at the scenario I experience this last time, however, that a general survey response is insufficient.   

I am a professional dancer/aerialist touring with Cher most of the time, and Management there tries to ensure that the majority of my flights to and from these engagements are through Delta. My assistant also books flights for outside contracting gigs and personal trips on Delta as well. A family matter arose that required me to be in Atlanta at the tail end of my trip to the Bahamas.  Understanding that I spend an inordinate amount of time on planes and buses, my assistant, who saw my extended layover in Atlanta on the return Tuesday 7/30, simply booked a separate one-way flight from Atlanta to New York on 8/4 in lieu of attempting to change the flight.    

When I arrived at Nassau Airport, representative at the check-in counter assured me that although he could do little to alter the bag check destination, the airline would be able to pull my luggage in Atlanta, as it is Delta’s hub.  But when I made it to Atlanta and approached an agent at the in-terminal flight desk, I was told immediately that there was no way that my bag could be pulled.   It did not matter that this conversation was taking place at around 3:00 p.m., more than six full hours before my originally scheduled second leg.  As vexed as I was that I was at Hartsfield Airport, which boasts regularly over their PA about its superior, state-of-the-art efficiency, the Delta representative offered absolutely no explanation.

The officiate at the baggage claim office was equally cryptic.  She said simply that once a bag is tagged, there is no way to alter its course, even at Delta’s hub.

The Delta representative at the call center not only refuted this, she had the presence of mind to look at my travel plans beyond that day. When she realized I had also a separate, purchased returned ticket to New York for Sunday, she explained the position of the airline.  The stark policy I ran into is a response to efforts by some passengers to thwart full fares using a website called SkipLagged, which is designed to provide the cheapest airfare by combing the airline options to find layover cities that can become final destinations.  To discourage people from exploiting whatever algorithm the site uses to generate these possibilities, Delta will check luggage only to the final destination of the purchased ticket with no alternatives.  Period.

Understanding this was hardly my intention—and that I did not buy my ticket on the site—the representative authorized Hartsfield baggage personnel to pull my luggage.  She was kind, affable and efficient, instructing me to return to the airport as soon as possible so that staff there would have time to comply with protocols on file with my itinerary.

Except that once they found the notes (which was only after it dawned on me to give them the confirmation number for the Sunday return ticket instead of the initial international flight), and sent word to the intermediary ground facility where my luggage waited, they still could not promise my luggage would not board the JFK-bound flight without me.  I was incredulous, protesting that at this point, even if I wanted to use take the return flight home that night and worry about getting back to Atlanta on a new flight—no doubt on a different airline—Delta could not guarantee one way or the other what baggage handlers on the floor would do with the revision, nor if they would get it in time.

At this point I was livid.  

Delta had basically promised that there was no way they could ensure that I would be with my belongings by the end of the night, regardless of whether I chose to take my initial flight.  The representative gave me a phone number to call the JFK baggage claim directly, should my luggage end up there, to ask if they might forward the bag to me in Atlanta the next day.

The phone number was not only incorrect, it belonged to a private citizen to whom I had to apologize for disrupting.  Yes, this was the listing that the Delta Airlines baggage claim number in Atlanta had for its associate office in New York. Wow.

My guess is that I need not unpack more; the ineptitude of this entire operation is plain.   Staff at an airline hub were unable to authorize a reasonable solution to a customer issue, and then doubled-down by lacking the agency to comply with the solution set forth by the airline. How does an airline with $45 billion of revenue at the end of June 2019, with increases of over 6% annually for the last two years (and 8% the year before), have such a massive problem internally communicating—and executing—its own directives?

I had more questions.  Do Delta agents in all departments of customer service have access to the same dossier of passenger travel that is available to each of us on the app?  Does the frequency of travel and loyalty to the airline matter outside of reward status?  Does the corporate culture of Delta include some kind of cursory understanding of the dangers of open letters like this one from professionals in various industries who might make their discontent known on a grand scale?

Let’s try that last one another way:  Is there something in the training that would alert a Delta employee that when the customer mentions in passing his associate choreographer position with Cher, which may weighs into the luggage conundrum, it might be a good idea to follow up with something other than a hands-tied, dismissive apology, lest letters like this one get published on the internet?

Granted, I have no illusions that my airline patronage (or that of Cher’s tour for that matter) could even begin to dent a $45-billion revenue.  But I still have these questions nevertheless.  And it astonishes me that extreme, almost irreversible measures were put in place to curtail skip laggers from lowering Delta’s fierce bottom line.

I took a chance and decided to stay in Atlanta with hopes that the baggage handlers did indeed get the news, although no one could tell me when to come check.  When I made the first of two trips back to the airport, the baggage representative explained that at midnight, the system resets and the notes attached to my confirmation number would disappear, meaning that I would need to call Delta and go through the entire process again to make sure my luggage did not end up on an early morning flight to JFK.  Finally, someone took my phone number and vowed to watch out for the bag, and called so that I could make a second trip to the airport.

I got my bag at around 11:30 p.m.  

I sincerely hope you all really consider these questions in your effort to “keep climbing.”

 

Thanks,

 

Jamal Story

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