Dear Mr. Anderson: My Letter to Delta Airlines CEO

Letter sent to Delta Airlines CEO after a horrible, miserable, frustrating experience.  This is all I’m saying about it. 

October 8, 2011

Richard H. Anderson

Chief Executive Officer

Delta Air Lines, Inc.

1030 Delta Boulevard
Atlanta, GA 30320-6001

Dear Mr. Anderson:

I feel compelled to share with you my experience flying with Delta. My deep frustration with Delta since my flight on September 19 has made me hesitant to continue attempting to communicate with your company. However, I have read “Rules for the Road. Delta Inc” and choose to believe this document expresses your company’s values. I would like to provide you with the opportunity to “Develop and leverage deep customer insights” and to stand by Delta’s constitutional principle to “Do not hurt anyone” and to “Try harder than all of your competitors-never give up.” I am writing to you since Delta’s Leadership Team does not appear to include a Customer Relations Executive and your employees could not recommend to me any single person in Delta’s hierarchy who is responsible for customer relations.

You are a businessman with a deep knowledge of both the bottom line and opportunity costs. My bottom line: a $181.30 dollar flight from Charlotte, NC to Atlanta, GA to Providence, RI has come with extraordinary opportunity costs and the loss of trust in your company.  From the moment I first spoke with your agent at the Delta gate in Charlotte before Flight 1095 departed to my last phone conversation on October 7, my experience has been marked by: 1) Direct misinformation, often marked by incredible rudeness; 2) Technology tools which have frequently failed and appear to serve as a default means to block customer interaction rather than provide information and means to engage; and 3) A company which does not demonstrate (to this customer) internal cohesiveness in operational functions.

Direct misinformation. Prior to boarding, I asked a Delta agent if I could carry my laptop and purse, since I could connect the two and safely put them under the seat (which I did for each leg of my trip). If not, I could quickly repack into two bags. I was told “Yes, as long as they connect, no problem”.  However, when I was boarding, the gate agent pulled me from the line and told me to check my carry-on bag. I related my previous conversation and was told, “They were wrong. You have to check this bag.” I requested the opportunity to quickly repack into two bags and was told, “No. Get on the plane.” I stated there were items in the bag which should not be checked, like my jewelry and external hard drive, which contained a pending client deliverable. The agent responded, “Do you have medicine in here? No?  Then get on the plane.” I reached for my bag, and the agent stopped me and demanded I “get on the plane.” My bag did not make it to Providence, RI. I filed a claim at that time. (Reference number: PVDDL49559)

I understand that Delta took in $952 million in baggage fee revenues, almost double your take in 2009. I also know that Delta’s revenue accounted for 28% of the nearly $3.4 billion brought in by the 20 other airlines. Your accomplishment in diversifying your revenue streams is to be applauded, for Delta’s year-over-year increased baggage revenue has completely dwarfed the combined efforts of United and Continental. You are beating your competitors, but from my experience as a customer, this focus on luggage or “freight” may well be incentivizing the type of behavior I experienced with your gate agent, poor customer service.  As another passenger on Flight 1095 stated to me: “I’m beginning to question whether Delta’s strategy to charge money for checked bags isn’t based on deliberate misinformation. They tell you one thing, only to demand your bag be checked. You are captured and they make more money.”

Technology tool failure. On September 20, at 2 am, I checked the Delta baggage tracking website, which stated my bag had been delivered to my hotel in Providence. I went to the front desk only to find it had not arrived. I waited until 4am and checked the website again. At that point, the website said I could no longer access this information. I attempted to call the 1-800 number. Your company’s phone tree lead to a dead-end since my reference number had been purged from the system. The only means I had of reaching your company was through Twitter? Thus began a dizzying amount of communication with your company over the course of 19 days that has, each time, ended with your employees stating, “You can call the 1-800 number or check the baggage tracking website.”

Technology is to be used as a tool to enhance customer service. Technology should not be used as a default for customer service. Your company has only recently launched the Baggage Tracking website. I understand your intent was to make it easier for customers to track their bag. However, the fact that Delta developed this on-line tool indicates to me that there was an underlying issue in your baggage handling which would require such a tool. Sir, your company’s use of technology as a band-aid for a systemic issue is flawed customer service. You can’t build on what is broken.

Furthermore, your employees’ default to “use the technology” as the only response to my issue indicates an innate organizational impotence to actually assist customers, or “to follow through with clear, consistent consequences” as stated in “Rules for the Road”. No one was able to help me locate my bag. Worse yet, when I (repeatedly) stated that neither the 1-800 number nor the website was meeting my needs and/or functioning, I was instructed to contact two different numbers to report the issues. Your employees should be empowered to do so themselves and not expect a frustrated customer to address internal systemic failures.  To add to my frustration, I submitted the on-line reimbursement form three different times only to receive a “The System is down” message. I have spent innumerable hours attempting to use your technology. When I demanded the name and number of a customer relations executive, I received an email from “Nicholas de Mimsy, Baggage Claim Agent, Customer Care-Baggage” (email is attached). When I called Baggage Claim and asked to speak with this person, I was told there was no one by that name working there. From my perspective, the technology tools have been used to deliberately distance this customer from the company, basically tools for obstruction.

Lack of internal cohesiveness. I have absolutely no idea how your company is structured, but I can say that my experience with your employees, within and between departments, suggests a lack of internal cohesiveness. From my first interaction with @DeltaAssist, the Delta Twitter account, to my last phone call with a Baggage Claim Agent, I never felt confident that a single person in your company could competently assist me. No one has ever told me where my bag is.

Speaking to a new agent within a single department during a different shift would result in my having to relate the details that had transpired to that point. Apparently communication between departments is as fragmented. After a particularly long day of trying to get everyone on the same page, I remarked to one agent that dealing with Delta was like being involved in a slapstick comedy, a “Who is on first” inanity that was completely at my expense. Communication and coordination between departments, based on a single/shared customer file, would have decreased my frustration, and would have made the entire process more efficient and effective. As a customer, I should not have to facilitate your interdepartmental communications. Typically, I get paid to facilitate.

Mr. Anderson, I know your company focuses on corporate customers. I am a nano-corp, a small business owner who aspires to great success. At this juncture, I am building my company, in the midst of great economic pressures. I’m sure you understand. I know Delta is faced with its own economic concerns at this time. The contents of my bag are just things. But they were my things. I worked hard to acquire them. I would have preferred to spend 66 hours building my client base and revenue streams, rather than dealing with your company. I would have preferred to deliver my client report on time, rather than losing a client over a trite excuse. I’ve sustained a major economic blow from flying with Delta. My total costs for flying Delta was $14,865. This includes: the contents of my bag ($2465), the estimated cost of my time spent dealing with your company($9900, based on a total of 66 hours x my $150/hr baseline billing charge) and the loss of revenue from lost client content ($2500).

Your company has “hurt someone.” I’m asking that you adhere to Delta’s Constitutional Principles and “Try harder than your competitors.” Please make this situation right.


Sandra M. Maxey

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15 thoughts on “Dear Mr. Anderson: My Letter to Delta Airlines CEO

  1. miah says:

    Bravo! This touches the level of poetry and vividly describes the experience too many of us have had with Delta.

  2. Sandy: I only wish this were a unique experience. Some time ago, after hypothesizing that Delta meant “Don’t Expect Luggage To Arrive”, I began to avoid them. I had very similar experiences on NW Airlines, so when they merged, I thought, “at least it’s a cultural fit.” But the bar is so chronically low (does US Air have a plane built within my lifetime? Have the bathrooms ever been cleaned?), that it’s a little depressing. I think you experience though speaks to something much bigger – this same no-consequence behavior, no access to anyone who can actually solve the problem, and no interest in problem-solving among the top tier is endemic, and seems to me at the heart of protests are occupying town squares in all 50 states. Makes you wonder what it takes to get highly-paid people to actually do their jobs.

    • sandymaxey says:

      I’m really disappointed in our legacy industries. I was so afraid to fly Delta. I had planned accordingly. They have, in effect, stolen my bag by giving me wrong information, then by not allowing me to, at the very least, retrieve the items that should not be checked. I was explicit about these items. According to their website, these items should not have been checked. The consequences have been devastating on many levels.

      So funny how you mention the US Airway planes being so old. On the flight to BIF7, I was wondering what it would take to “disrupt” the airline industry. From the very old planes-on flight to Atlanta, I swear I flew on that very plane at least 25 years ago. I was watching flight attendants handing out 4.5 ounces of carbonated drinks and .75oz packages of peanuts and wondering “Where is the value in this?” Truly an anachronistic industry. Abhorrent customer service.

      I agree with your point about this abject dismissal of customer complaints truly being at the heart of the protests across the country. I’m exhausted by the amount of time I spend on these types of corporate ineptitude situations. I have no hope, so I am fearless. I am also remarkably persistent. Let’s see what happens.

      Thank you for your very thoughtful post. I’m happy to connect with you beyond 140 characters!

  3. CoCreatr says:

    How about giving a try to a non-airline:

  4. Dick Carlson says:

    In all seriousness, I would suggest FedEx’ing important items ahead of you to your hotel. I’ve done this numerous times. A cost of about $50 gives you tremendous peace of mind. And success on one of my presentations can often mean $50 – $100K.

    I fly Delta frequently, and have for years. Up until the NWA merger, they were pretty reliable. (YMMV). I check a large bag, usually — but have one carry-on with my ‘puter, docs, and critical stuff that never leaves my hand no matter what. I’ve occasionally had some testy words with flight attendants about it that got to the “happy to leave your aircraft, ma’am” point — but I’m well aware of the paperwork and questions that will entail for them. And I’m an older, professionally dressed GUY — with some miles attached to my Skymiles number — so they usually just turn away and go hassle someone else.

    Key thing to remember here. Once you’re IN THE AIR you have to follow every silly direction they give you. When you’re ON THE GROUND you can always say “happy to leave the aircraft, then” and they have no option but to let you leave it the door is still open. And if you do, it delays their departure and messes up their paperwork.

    • sandymaxey says:

      A great deal of wisdom here. Thank you for your post. I never check bags, and probably should have done exactly what you have suggested. I will keep this in mind for future reference.

  5. […] Dear Delta Airlines. […]

  6. Patty says:

    Did you ever get a response? Because I am just getting back from my own hellish ordeal and would like to know if I should even bother to try.

  7. Terry Cooper says:

    Brillant! I found your letter as I was looking for someone in Delta Customer Service I could complain to.

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