A Customer Love Letter To Delta

Delta Airlines saved my ass today after Alaska screwed up, royally. Delta went way above and beyond and, either through process or (more likely) through employee empowerment, got me where I needed to go against all the odds. Here’s what happened.


Last night, I boarded am Alaska/Horizon flight for San Jose to Boise to go skiing with my family for the long weekend. I’d had a meeting earlier in the day in the Bay Area, so Lisa and the kids had gone ahead and had already flown to Boise and were going to pick me up at the airport when I arrived. My flight takes off; I’m on one of the high-wing twin prop Bombardier Q400s on the last flight of the day. The flight takeoff was delayed about an hour as the Alaska flights were all delayed due to weather, but no big deal.


About an hour into the flight as we are about to hit the Sierras, the pilot comes on saying that the in-flight wing deicing system is showing a failure/warning light, and that out of an abundance of caution, we are going to turn around and fly back to San Jose. Ok, good call, Cap’n, as falling out of the sky as a result of ice on the control surfaces is almost completely guaranteed to ruin one’s day. We turn around, fly back to San Jose and then spend about a half an hour making big, lazy turns over the Bay as we try to burn off fuel since we are over our allowable landing weight. Finally, we get the plane down to a safe landing weight and line up on final approach. We land uneventfully.


As soon as we touch down, I call Alaska’s reservations call center, where the call center rep does a great job booking me on a Delta flight the following morning at 10am. All good, I get it. Stuff happens and we’ll try this again tomorrow. They unload all the bags from the Alaska/Horizon plane, I grab my stuff, call Lisa and let her know I’m going to be a day late and to hug the kids, and I head home, getting to sleep about midnight. Before going to sleep, I check my email and see the confirmation of the flight change from Alaska in there, and showing my Delta flights and both my (old) Alaska confirmation number and my (new, confirmed) Delta confirmation number. I go to sleep and wake up at 6am, just to have plenty of time to get back to the airport, park (again) in long term parking, and get checked in.


I drive back to the airport this morning at about 8:00am, and try to check in at the Delta counter. They pull up my reservation and…they can’t check me in. “Um, why not?” I ask.


So. It appears that after the Alaska flight was canceled last night after returning to San Jose, the Alaska gate agents took it upon themselves to rebook everyone on a new, unscheduled flight at 7:00am this morning on the same Alaska  plane from last night. Doing this invalidated the ticket that I had on Delta (even though I had a Delta confirmation number *that Alaksa gave me*). More importantly, I received NO notification from Alaska of this change. What I had was a belief that I was on a Delta flight at 10am, and the confirmation information to back it up.


At this point, I’m a man without a country. I have a Delta confirmation number, but no ticket (since Alaska pulled it back into their system). The Alaska flight that they rebooked me on (but failed to inform me of) has left. And now all Alaska AND all Delta flights are sold out of seats for the rest of the day.


Through all of this, the individual desk agents at Delta are trying to find a solution for me. They are trying different routings. They are going back and forth with both Alaska personnel at San Jose AND working the Alaska call center on my behalf. At one point, the had me routed in a First Class Delta seat out of SFO (spiffy, yo), and were calling a shuttle bus to take me from San Jose to SFO (that didn’t work out as there wasn’t enough time to make the flight out of the other airport). Finally, after almost 90 minutes of typing codes into their system, finding some way to pry the ticket out of Alaska’s system and into theirs, AND somehow getting me a confirmed seat on an oversold flight, the Delta agent tells me to run up to the gate. I don’t have a ticket, mind you…all I have is a printed paper that says “Seat Request” on it. “Do I need a ticket?” I ask. The Delta agent says that I have all that I need. I race through security and charge to the gate. As I get there, the gate agent is calling my name.


“Here!” I say.


He prints out boarding passes for me, but we are still not done. In doing all of this, I need to have *paper* tickets to affix to the boarding passes. The paper tickets are back at the check in, on the other side of security and a half-a-terminal away and on the other side of the gargantuan security line. “No problem,” says the gate agent. “They’re being brought up for you.”


While the 90 minute saga was going on, the lead agent at Delta had given me a meal voucher for the inconvenience that this whole ordeal was taking. (So, check this…Alaska f’d up, and Delta gives me meal vouchers for the inconvenience.) I decided to go over and grab a slice, and while I’m waiting for it I hear my name called over the loudspeaker. I race back to the gate and the agent from the check-in had hand-carried my tickets up to the gate. Unprecedented.


Five minutes later, the flight boards. I get on without further incident, and we smoothly roll down the runway and gently lift off.


Alaska’s systems failed and completely hosed me.


On the other hand, Delta’s *people* went WAY above and beyond, and did everything in their power to get me to my family today. Thanks, Delta.


The shouts out: Delta San Jose Station crew, you guys pulled off the impossible. Huge kudos to superstar Myanh T. for making this happen, and to supporting cast members Jessica H. and Glenn F. who brought everything over the line. Without you guys, I’d be cooling my heels in San Jose this weekend. My family and I can’t thank you enough.

12 Replies to “A Customer Love Letter To Delta”

  1. Great story, Chris. And kudos to Delta for a job well done.

    It’s amazing the ripple effect of delivering great Customer Wow. Up until reading your blog post ago, my image of Delta customer service was mostly tepid formed from years of indifferent service.

    A few front line service employees pull some rabbits out of their hats, treat you like you deserve, and your write a blog post — and POOF — suddenly the image of Delta in my mind is a complete turnaround: Delta = Great Customer Service. (And United still breaks guitars.)

    Companies spend gazillions on branding and marketing to change their brand image. Now that customer service is the new marketing, we can see the power of pushing some of that spend to the employees and systems that touch the customers.

    Nice job, Delta. Nice job, Chris.

  2. @Cheryl Indeed.

    @Matt That’s exactly right. Customers are the amplifiers of what’s happening, both good and bad. Plus, it would seem much more likely that a customer would amplify his or her experiences (vs. amplifying a marketing message or a branding activity.) So your point about focus us well taken.

  3. Awesome story and glad you’re home safe, above all else.

    The best part? You didn’t even have to say “I’m a blogger…”

  4. Love that you documented it all! So great to reward good customer service. Hope you had a great time in Boise–see you all soon!

  5. Chris,

    Thanks for sharing such an excellent story of how Delta let compassion rule, and helped you get to your family for vacation.

    A Delta stewardess flying to LA on vacation gave up the last remaining seat on a flight from Cincinnati to Los Angeles for me last summer. I was the last stand-by passenger without a seat assignment. We got to talking at the gate. She was on her way out to see friends in LA. I explained I’d been traveling all week and was hoping to get home but the flight looked sold out. In an instant she gave up her employee pass and let me take the very last seat on the plane. That act of kindness took about six hours off my trip back home.

    I was so touched I wrote an e-mail to Delta’s CEO. While I don’t know if she ever received recognition for such a selfless act, it forever changed my perception of the airline.

    Have a great week,


  6. Alaska came thro for me – OK is was back in the days when US air service was legendary throughout the world and everyone was envious of my stories back in Europe. I had got into Washington -Tacoma around 8pm to make my connection to Vancouver BC to give a seminar the next day. Being a little tired after two planes from from Europe I fell sound asleep a little way from the gate. When I woke up the plane had gone and the gates around me was deserted. I went down to check-in and only the Alaska desk was open. I just enquired what time the airport opened next morning, explaining my timing, and they told me that the first Delta flight would not get me into Vancouver in time. They then proceeded to give me a ticket for their early flight and a voucher for an hotel bed.
    Beyond good service.

  7. Wow I am impressed with delta now due to you post, my current thoughts of them was blah.

    especially in this new social media trust environment in a competitive feild like the airlines,

    They must step thier game up on customer service,

    good lessons

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