So why am I so hard on Delta Airlines?

If you follow my twitter feed, then you’ll note that as of late, I’ve had some not very nice things to say about Delta.  Now don’t get me wrong; they are a big airline, and they have a very nice route map.  But I have to say it’s not the route map or the size of the airline that you get to know – it’s the people that fly with you in the sky.  And I have to say that the experiences I’ve have had over the just the last two weeks is enough to make me say, “ENOUGH, ALREADY!”

It’s no secret that I give each flight crew that I fly with a bag of chocolates.  Just a little $3.50 bag of Hershey’s Miniatures that I buy every week, and then give them to the crew.  As you’ll find out in the official AirSnark book that’ll be out late this year or early next year, I’ve had only a handful of bad experiences.  For instance, I was boarding a flight and handed the lead FA (flight attendant) that was greeting us boarding passengers a bag of chocolate.  They look at it, looked at me, and then said, “Well okay then,” and then tossed the bag in the trash.

I thought that was a one-off, but no, Delta tries to go that much further.  When I flew out of Portland last weekend, I handed the lead FA a bag of chocolates, which they accepted with a smile.  When that FA found me ten minutes later, she turned to the FA behind her and said, “This is the nice gentleman that brought us the chocolates.”

The second FA just looked at me, rolled his eyes, and said, “People’ll do anything for a free drink these days.”

Listen, asshat – screw you.  I don’t do it for a drink.  You can ask FAs that I’ve flown with on many, many occasions; I actually rarely ask for anything, food or drink.  I’m probably one of the most low-key/low-need passengers that you’ll ever fly with.  But no, this guy just knew that I was trying to “gain the system” or something for a free drink, when all I was trying to do was do something nice to brighten up someone’s day.

Coming home Thursday, the unthinkable happened again.  Except this time, the lead FA didn’t say a work – they just dumped the bag of candy in the trash.

Just because you’re one of the biggest airlines, and you have a monopoly on the busiest airport in the world doesn’t mean you have the right to be an asshole to your passengers.  Unless you’re trying to alienate them and get them to fly your competitors.  But at least in my case, it’s working.  I’m going out of my way (and saving the client $450/week in airfare) by flying into a secondary airport for my final destination, all because Delta has probably the worst reputation of any one of the majors when it comes to customer service in the sky – where it matters.

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HRC Rankings of Airlines, Hotels, etc. and a Word about United

For those of you that aren’t familiar, HRC stands for The Human Rights Campaign, which is the leading LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) rights organization.  Okay, so you’re not part of the LGBT community.  That’s fine.  There’s 10% of the population that is, and there are people who will often choose organizations based on their corporate actions (how they treat women and minorities, including LGBT workers).

I’m happy to say that my 3 primary airlines (Alaska Air, American Airlines, and Delta) and my primary hotel chain (Marriott) all have a 100% rating from the HRC.  If you look down the list, there are others; Southwest has a 95 rating, United has an 88 rating, Hertz Rent a Car has a 70 rating, with Skywest one of the lowest at 15, and Frontier and Midwest both with big honking 0 ratings.  (Personally, I didn’t know that about Frontier; I was going to fly them in January to see how they’ve changed since the last time I’ve flown them in 2010; now I know I won’t even bother!).

Now talking about United specifically.

So they have an 88% rating with the Human Rights Campaign, which means they can do better.  And what’s the first thing they should do?  They should address the ugly issue that came up this past weekend where a gay couple was denigrated when trying to use a United Club in Denver, including being called “faggots” and “idiots”, among other stuff.

So come on, United.  Denounce this manager’s action and use it as a teaching opportunity for your entire organization.

Personally, I don’t see this happening.  I’ve flown United a dozen times over the last ten years, and every time (without fail), the customer service is downright horrid.  I mean talking down to passengers, at a minimum.  Last time I flew them, I was standing near the gate desk in SFO, and the 3 flight crew were ten feet from me – and were talking smack about passengers.  It’s like a trained thing for United flight crews; day 1 is emergency training, days 2 through 5 is “creative customer insulting”.

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Travel-Related Customer Service in the Digital Age

Remember when customer service meant having to call an 800 number?  Yeah, not in the digital age anymore.  Things have changed, but not always for the best.  Here’s a rundown of some of the best – and worst – interactions I’ve had with customer service in the digital age.  All of these are travel related companies.  Every single one of these interactions was done via Twitter.

Best: HorizonAir (web: http://www.horizonair.com, Twitter: @horizonair )
Interaction:  It’s hard to pull just one interaction that I’ve with Horizon.  They’re probably the most responsive of any of the companies that I’ve ever dealt with on Twitter.  Even just a quick tweet once, saying, “Arrived SEA early. Changed to earlier @horizonair flight – then it was cancelled. Hope to get home soon.”  They responded within an hour, saying, “Sorry about the cancellation – hope you got home safely!”.  Whenever I’ve had a question, or even a concern over the recent changes going on at Horizon, Horizon has been quick to respond.  I hope that doesn’t change under the new Alaska umbrella.

Honorable Mention for Best: Marriott International (web: http://www.marriott.com, Twitter: @marriottintl )
Interaction: I’ve not had much interaction with Marriott.  To be honest, hotels are so much more stable and reliable than airlines.  I mean, when was the last time you got to a hotel and they’d cancelled everyone’s rooms?  Flights, yes.  Rooms, no.  My first interaction was a tweet saying something like, “I guess even being @marriottintl Platinum Premier doesn’t guarantee you the type of room you reserved.”  Within a few minutes, Marriott contacted me asking me for details of the situation.  I told them I was really more blowing off steam than anything else, but they insisted on making sure everything was done the right way, and the hotel hadn’t done it properly.  They asked for the hotel, and talked to them the next day to ensure that proper procedures were followed for room guarantees.  Nobody got into trouble, which was my main point.  And they’ve guaranteed my room type every week ever since.

Good, but can do better: Alaska Airlines (http://www.alaskaair.com, Twitter: @alaskaair )
Interaction: Usually questions sent to Alaska Airlines will be responded to.  However, I’ve noticed lately that queries I bring up are ignored.  It’s clear that their Twitter team and their Facebook team are the same people.  On a couple of occasions, I’ve said things on Twitter, and commented on Facebook on a separate issue, and the Facebook response from Alaska contains reference to my tweet.  I’m not sure what the disconnect is lately, though.  For instance, I’ve asked about the Alaska Airlines Board Room a couple of times lately (two times in the last 60 days), but the questions go unanswered.  Totally weird.

The awful: Business Traveller Magazine (http://www.businesstraveller.com, Twitter: @btuk )
Interaction:  I used to subscribe to Business Traveller Magazine’s print edition a few years back.  Once I started heavy travel again (read: cross country flights twice per week – or worse!), I decided to subscribe again.  This time, I saw they offer an online version of their magazine.  This being the electronic age, I subscribed to the electronic version.  That’s when it got bad.  First, they’re supposed to contact you – just a simple email – when a new issue is posted.  I think I’ve gotten two, maybe three of these.  The rest?  Who knows.  I cite this as bad because, as we all know, “Out of sight, out of mind.”  If you don’t know it’s out there, are you going to go and look for it?  No, not really.  Second, I downloaded the IMR file that Business Traveller puts out and tried to open it.  Hmmm, what’s an IMR file?  I look through their website, assuming that I will be able to find how to open the file.  Nothing.  Not even on the issue download page.  So then I start contacting them through their website.  No response.  So I see that their Twitter account is active, and contact them through there.  Again, no response.  Tweet again, no response.  Wait a few of weeks, download the new version of the magazine that’s just been released (but alas, I still can’t open), and tweet them again.  STILL nothing.  I finally find the company that creates IMR files for companies out of your own magazines/PDFs.  They won’t respond.

If you’re looking for the black-hole of customer service, Business Traveller Magazine is your winner.  I think it’s unethical for a company to take your money and provide you with an unusable product.  Oh sure, I could read the issue online.  But WTF are downtimes waiting for your flight in the airport, or transcontinental flights good for, if not to catch up on your reading?

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It’s all about the customer service

Got good customer service?  Think again.  Some of the most troublesome conversations that I have had as a traveler have been with American Airline’s Executive Platinum line and AVIS First customer service.  These are the ELITE levels of these two companies, and it seems, some of the most incompetent people work there.  Want a real world example?  I just called AVIS First customer service a bit ago, and this was my conversation:

Me: Hi there. I’m coming in on AA 5044 and we’re delayed 4 hours. We won’t be in until at least midnight. I want to make sure you’re going hold the center open.
AVIS: Well sir the center closes at midnight.
Me: I know, but my flight information is on my reservation. Don’t they have to stay open if flights are delayed?
AVIS: If you want us to stay open after closing time, you must alert us 3 days in advance.
Me: 3 days in advance? So I have to know 3 days in advance if my flight is going to be delayed?
AVIS: Yes sir.

This is complete nonsense, but it is exactly what this person was trained to say!  The more and more I work online, the less I expect out of companies.

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