Thursday, January 13, 2011

How Delta Air Lines staff took great care of my 80-something parents

On Tuesday, with the snowstorm heading for New Jersey and having hit Atlanta the day before, I sent my 88- and 89-year-old parents on a Delta Air Lines flight from Newark, connecting in Atlanta, and headed to Sarasota, Fla.

My parents were in wheelchairs from the moment they checked-in at Newark Airport to their eventual arrival in Sarasota, about 12 hours later, because they can't handle walking the long distances from check-in to the gates or baggage claim areas.

After parking my car curbside and dashing in to get my parents wheelchairs in Newark Terminal B, a Delta agent -- a distance from the check-in counter -- checked my parents in and didn't even charge them for their two bags.

My parents' trip was off to a great start.

We'd all seen horror stories on TV after the Christmas storm of people getting stranded at airports for days on end.

But, with all of their anxiety about getting stuck at the airport in Atlanta, their ultimate nightmare almost happened.

While they were flying from Newark to Atlanta, I got notified by Delta via my mobile phone that my parents' connecting flight to Sarasota was cancelled.

A bunch of other Delta flights from Atlanta to Sarasota that evening, Jan. 11, also got axed. With icy conditions in Atlanta, Delta was running a light schedule.

When I started searching, there was no availability shown for any Atlanta-Sarasota flights that evening.

Nothing for any other airlines, either.

It looked like my parents were going to get stuck in Atlanta for the evening, and would have to figure out how to gather up their luggage and look for a hotel.

They would have been totally stressed out.

They had originally booked their flights on and had no travel agent to get them out of this mess.

But, I called a travel agent friend, Bonnie Salt of Planet Travel in Newburyport, Mass., and she suggested I try to rebook as fast as possible on and to phone Delta and hang on the phone for as long as it takes.

I called a couple of times and just got a recording. Another time I called and was promised by Delta that someone would call me back in around 20 minutes.

Fortunately, Salt provided me another phone number, Delta's agency number, and I reached Tricia Maris, a Delta customer service rep in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Maris sprung into action right away and got my parents rebooked on an Atlanta-Sarasota flight, slated to depart at around 8:55 p.m., about four and a half hours after they arrived in Atlanta.

It didn't matter -- at least they wouldn't have to spend the night at the airport and would be heading home, if the Delta flight didn't get cancelled in the interim.

Maris seemingly pulled some strings, got my parents seat assignments, 24B and 38B, explained to me what to do if their baggage didn't make it onto the connecting flight, and really brought me some "good news," as she put it.

Maris had provided me with the phone number for the baggage claim area in Sarasota because I was concerned that my parents' luggage, with all of their medicine, wouldn't make the connecting flight.

In Sarasota, I reached Drucilla Russell, the baggage claim floor supervisor, who was very kind and advised me that if my parents' bags didn't appear, then they should fill out a lost baggage claim form that night at the airport, regardless how late they arrived, because then Delta would ensure that the bags would get sent to their home the next day at the airline's expense.

Well, my parents' flight from Atlanta to Sarasota took off a few minutes late, but everything went smoothly. The gate agent had managed to place them next to one another in the first row of coach.

None of the Delta staff members gave my parents special treatment because they knew I'd write about it, and none were aware that I am a travel journalist. They, of course, had no idea I have this blog and am North America editor of the travel tech news site Tnooz.

It was a really long day for my parents, a travel marathon for them, but when they arrived in Sarasota, they were happy and their bags were there.

Two Delta staff members handling their wheelchairs retrieved their luggage at baggage claim in Sarasota, wheeled them out to a taxi -- and loaded their luggage into the taxi.

The cab driver obviously didn't work for Delta, but even he (maybe it was a she) pitched in, carrying my parents luggage into their condo.

People who work for airlines take a lot of crap, often deservedly, but the Delta people whom my parents and I came in contact with on Tuesday, a day that was full of flight cancellations and probably customer service havoc, acted so admirably and with such kindness, that they all deserve this blog post.

Nice work, Delta.

And thanks.


Anonymous said...

Yes, thanks Delta. Given that I had also been in contact with these two wonderfully delightful and anxious elders, I was very happy that they made it home. Thanks also, Dennis and all others who made it so Omi and Opa made it home

Anonymous said...

This is a great post.

A small story to share about Continental too: My wife, is traveling with our two kids (6 yo and 3 month old) to Mumbai soon on Continental - a 15 hour direct flight from New York. When she booked the tickets, she was told bulk head seats (where you can put the bassinet) cost more and besides, they were all taken - three months in advance! - god knows we Indians like to make babies ;-) .

She tried her luck yesterday, with a follow up call a few weeks after originally buying the tickets. The Continental agent she was pleading with on the phone put her on hold - for 15 minutes. Pessimistically, she hung up the call.

Well, 20 minutes later she gets an email saying her seats had been changed to the ones she wanted. And this is after hanging up on the agent. Her flight is going to be less stressful. Sometimes we consumers should think twice about complaining about airline employees so much.

Me: hotel technology company exec and avid reader _and_ twice tnooz special node contributor ;-)

tmac said...

good blog. your parents were fortunate. travel for older folks can be a nightmare. I traveled the world on business for 30+ years and 1.5 mil miles...mostly good some horrific experiences