January 31, 2014 Leave a comment
A few weeks ago, I talked briefly about the implosion that occurred with United Airlines when the “polar vortex” hit Chicago and the Midwest and what they did wrong or, at least, didn’t do right. This week, Delta’s hub in Atlanta and much of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic was hit with unusual winter weather that created significant Irregular Operations (IRROPS).
There were several things that went wrong for United a few weeks ago. Of course, they cannot control the weather but they have operated out of Chicago for a long, long time and have signficant experience with cold weather and snow. Additionally, American Airlines, who also has a significant hub in Chicago, seemed to fare much better in regards to cancellations.
The specific problems that went beyond the weather and actual flight cancellations were:
- Lack of notice – I only learned about the cancellation of my flight upon going to United.com to check-in the night before. Of course, the sooner you know about the problem, the more options that are available for rebooking. I never received an email or call from United even though they had my info in the record. Had I not checked on-line, I could possibly have found out only a couple of hours before my original flight.
- Inability to Reach United – Upon discovering the cancellation, I tried repeatedly to get in touch with United. I probably tried phoning them 20-25 times. In each case, after spending 10-15 minutes navigating phone trees and holding, I was disconnected with a message that either said “All agents are busy. Please call back.” or “We are experiencing technical difficulties. Goodbye.” In other words, one could not even get in the queue.
- Website was Useless – While trying to reach them via phone, I also tried to use their website to book alternate flights. This function simply did not work. At all.
- Email and Web Form Not Answered – Well, in fairness, they did respond – six days into my trip with a message that basically said, “We hope it worked out for you.”
- United’s Twitter did Respond but No Help – I direct messaged United Twitter account before heading to bed and did get a response overnight. They offered to rebook me for the first two legs of my trip for five days later and told me that I needed to contact US Airways for the remaining legs (I was traveling on an award ticket issued by US Air). This response did not help and was inaccurate. Once the IRROPS begin, United owns the itinerary.
Had it not been for the great work of a couple of local ticket agents, the two week international trip would have been completely scuttled.
Now, let’s turn to Delta and their handling of IRROPS today. I was scheduled for an early flight out of PHX, connecting to DTW, and then into LEX. Upon rising, I discovered that my 7:05 a.m. departure was delayed until 10:30 a.m. and I would not make my connnection. While checking the web, I received an email and a phone call on my cell letting me know the same information. This was right at two hours before the originally scheduled departure.
I went to Delta.com where the delay was noted and the proposed rebooking was already in my record for acceptance, if I was happy with it. The proposed rebooking was PHX-DTW-LGA-LEX and would get me in about six hours later than originally scheduled. The website allowed me to look for alternatives and showed a 6:00 a.m. departure through ATL that would get me in about 3 hours earlier than originally scheduled and that seats were still available.
Since I was up a little early and staying by the airport, I figured I could make this earlier flight. I was not able to rebook the flight on the website – it gave me an error – but I called the Diamond Medallion line and, after 14 minutes of hold time, was able to book the flight. In addition, the phone agent called over to Operations to have an aisle seat unblocked for me and got me an aisle since it was close to a fully booked flight.
A hotel shuttle ride to the airport, printing of the new boarding passes at a kiosk, a quick trip through the TSA PreCheck line with my shoes on and liquids in my bag, and I was at the gate. Then, I just got lucky and scored a first class upgrade when someone did not check-in for their confirmed seat.
All the things that United got wrong, Delta got right. In fairness, I have the highest elite status with Delta and my experience might not reflect what others without status might have experienced. But, the key issue is that the systems worked – the automated emails and phone calls, the rebooked flights available for review on the website, and the ability to connect with a phone agent.
Will I give United another shot in the future? I’m sure that will happen based on schedules, routes, or price at some point in the future, but the real question is why would I not fly Delta? I don’t get paid by Delta. I don’t get promotional credit from Delta. Delta sometimes frustrates me or screws things up. But, credit needs to be given where credit is due.