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Not That Guy

The plane trip back was uneventful; Ronan fell asleep as the other passengers boarded and stayed asleep for the whole trip. So I wasn't "That Guy" who annoyed the other passengers with a crying baby. Yay!

Now that we’re back and have one trip under our belts, we can begin to worry about the Thanksgiving trip to Florida. Three (!) hours (!) of plane flight, regardless of additional travel time. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m just a little bit scared.

I’m going to go off topic now, and talk about how much I hate Delta Airlines. They seem to be hell-bent on making their customer experience really painful. I say this now because they canceled our non-stop tickets, and for the same price, offered us the fun of a three-hour layover in Atlanta during Thanksgiving travel week. Luckily, Travelocity worked with us to cancel the reservation and get tickets that were $300 cheaper on another airline. That’s correct, Delta wanted $300 more for a three-hour layover in Atlanta than Continental wanted to fly us there direct on the same dates.

So, I’m going back into the archive to relate the story of getting to my Dad’s sixtieth birthday party last July 2006. As a result of Delta’s incompetence my parents learned they were going to be grandparents over the phone instead of face-to-face.

July 2006

As a kid, I remember learning that customer service was really important for business. That people will pay a reasonable premium for goods and services that were delivered with more care and attention than for the same service that was delivered without it. Nothing illustrates that more than my dealings last weekend with Delta and JetBlue.

I fly to Buffalo, NY all the time. Not like, I have a client in Buffalo that I visit twice a month, but I have family there, and I go three or four times a year.  I used to take the train, but JetBlue made it cheap enough to fly for the same price. (Are you listening, Amtrak?)

So, I’m thinking, my Dad’s turning 60 and throwing a great party, and I have a business meeting my parents set up with some grant writers for my WWII website. I’ll save a few bucks and fly Delta’s ComAir service. Yeah, it’s a 90 minute flight instead of JetBlue’s 50 minutes, but if I save a few bucks, who cares?

Well, now, I care. I care a lot. This past weekend was the worst trip to Buffalo I’ve ever had. It all started when my wife and I (and my friend) got to JFK. My wife and I checked our bags and got our boarding passes. As we got through security and up to our gate, an announcement asked all passengers to come to the desk because the flight was cancelled. It was 6 PM, July 29, 2006.

Delta gate agent: The flight is cancelled, sir.

Me: Okay, Can I get a flight in the morning?

Delta: Sir, the next flight is 9 PM tomorrow night.

Me: That’s unacceptable. I have a 1:30 PM business meeting, so I need to be there by 12:30 PM.

Delta: Well, we can fly you to Cincinnati, then to Buffalo, and get you there at 4:30 PM.

Me; But the meeting is at 1:30 PM. Can I get a refund?

Delta: Sir, it’s the weather, we have no control over that, so we don’t provide refunds.

ME: But I have to be there by 12:30. What can I do?

Delta Agent #2: (sighs.)  SIR, IT’S THE WEATHER! We have no control over the weather!

Me: I understand that, but we have to be in Buffalo earlier than 4:30 PM?

Delta: It’s the weather, sir.

So, excusing myself, I called JetBlue. They had space on several flights, and none of them were cancelled. One was two hours delayed, and they were able to tell me that over the phone. So I forked over $800 for three tickets, almost twice the price of the Delta tickets booked weeks ago, and asked Delta for my luggage back.

Delta: (sighs.) I don’t know, sir. We can’t give you your luggage here, sir.

Me: Well, how can I get my luggage?

Delta: You have to go to baggage claim.

Me: And where do I go about the refund?

Delta: You will need to go to customer service.

Me: Can I do that over the phone?

Delta: Yes.

So we head off to the ticket counter, stopping at another Delta gate agent along the way. Apparently Delta has a customer service center in JFK, but its own employees aren’t sure where it is, so we never found it. After a few minutes of searching we head for baggage claim.

My wife is now very sick.

Working baggage claim in JFK on a rainy, storm-delayed night must earn combat pay. Delta’s concept is to have someone intercept customers outside of the baggage claim, and that person does everything he can to dissuade customers from claiming their bags. If you don’t speak English, good luck – one poor woman from Quebec couldn’t understand that Delta’s goal was to not give her bag to her, even if she had a bus to catch.

Delta Interceptor: Did the gate agent send a request for your bags?

Me: YES.        My wife: NO.

Delta Interceptor: We can’t get your bag without a request ticket being generated by the gate agent.

Me: Can we generate a request here?

Delta Interceptor: No, it has to come from the gate agent.

Me: Why didn’t the gate agent tell us about this?

Delta Interceptor: (sighs.) I don’t know, sir.

Me: Well, we’ll wait.

Delta Interceptor: (sighs.) I don’t know if you can do that, sir.

After arguing with, and then ignoring the interceptor, we finally got up to the counter after about 30 minutes of waiting.

Delta lost baggage agent: The best thing to do is to let your baggage go to Buffalo tomorrow. Make sure you file a lost bag claim when you get to Buffalo.

Me: What if we want our luggage now?

Delta: There’s a three to four hour wait for baggage.

Me: Well, if the baggage handlers are not loading planes because the flights are canceled, can they get people’s bags?

Delta: (sighs.) Well, they were released to save costs.

Me: So, they are sent home to save money if the flights are cancelled?

Delta: Basically, yes. We don’t have personnel to get your bags.

I’ve been in a lot of hairy situations in my life, some death threats, some riots, and even a bomb threat once. The Delta baggage claim at JFK wasn’t the worst I’ve seen, but people were really, really angry.  All the agents, especially Delta Interceptor, had someone angry at them, either storming towards them, standing in front of them yelling, or storming off in a huff. Another couple said to one another, we could leave, but do we trust our luggage to an outfit this disorganized? I think everyone there was making that choice.

Me: Do you get combat pay for this?

Delta: Yes, and I’ve got only a few years before retirement.

Me: So what can we do?

Delta: (sighs.) I recommend that you don’t file a claim, let your luggage go to Buffalo, and file a claim when you get there. It will go, tomorrow, for sure.

So, we gave up, because at that time we thought we were flying out in about an hour and a half. We kissed our luggage up to the gods and headed for JetBlue. We got printouts of the baggage claim numbers so we could file a claim in Buffalo.

We arrived to find the Jetblue terminal in chaos. Almost every flight, everywhere, had been delayed. But nothing was cancelled. We were still on time but it was clear that we would be very delayed.

That’s when my wife decided she’d had enough, was too sick, and went home. Jetblue told us they would give us a voucher for her ticket, but that turned into a refund for almost the whole ticket price. It was easy and the customer service agent was very friendly, despite all the madness.

Since we had a quiet moment, I called Delta’s Atlanta office to get a refund. After much holding, sighing, and checking, I was told that a refund would be issued. I asked for a confirmation code or something, and was told that there wouldn’t be one. I got the refund agent’s name just in case. Good move.

My friend and I met up with my brother, who had originally booked himself on the JetBlue flight. (Ryan is the smarter brother). We waited until 3:30 AM to board our flight, but once we were in the air there were no more problems. Until we got to Buffalo, that is.

At 5:15 in the morning, I went to the Delta counter in Buffalo. I waited on line for 15 minutes. When I got to the counter, I found that Delta had no record of my refund, and my friend’s ticket could only be refunded if he showed up in person. No problem – I have him right here. However, he can’t get a refund, he has to call the same number I called for a refund. Eventually I got a refund for my ticket and my wife’s, but my friend couldn’t get a receipt. We were told just to wait and see if the refund showed up on my credit card.

The far more interesting story was the missing luggage. Apparently Delta, or any airline, won’t trace your luggage if you fly another airline, you have to go through the carrier that got you there. I lost it with the Delta ticket agent. No amount of begging or pleading would work. First, I must point out that Delta’s baggage office was closed overnight. The sign on the door said to go to the ticket counter for assistance. The Delta ticket agent would not trace my luggage, even with the printouts from the JFK lost baggage office, even knowing that my night had really sucked. Why? Because the unwritten rule of airports in that whomever flew you must trace the luggage. She actually seemed to get exasperated that I might find this absolutely ludicrous. She sighed deeply. I think the Delta agents are just as fed up with the lousy job their colleagues perform as I am.

JetBlue’s office was open, but only because one of their employees stayed 19 hours. He was very pleasant to me as he finally went home. Another agent, just starting baggage claim duty, helped me fill out the lost luggage form. All the JetBlue agents were stunned that Delta wouldn’t get my bag, but they weren’t aware of the unwritten rule of airport lost luggage.

I went to breakfast, then took a nap, then got up for business meeting with the grant writers.

I called Delta three times before a lost luggage agent agreed to trace my luggage over the phone. My bag was due to arrive in Buffalo at 1 PM. No trace of my wife’s luggage was available. Great.

Then, because I had to pick up my aunt at the airport for the party, I stopped by the JetBlue lost luggage office to see if they had found it. I got to sit in on the lost luggage agent helping another customer who had arrived ahead of their luggage. She was polite, helpful, and offered several options of delivery, including multiple trips to Rochester, at JetBlue’s cost, for the delivery of the missing luggage. I was impressed, but after Delta’s refusal to help me in any way after canceling my flight, any act of kindness was nice to see.  As the JetBlue lost luggage agent put it, “We got you there when Delta didn’t, and now we have to pay to deliver your luggage.”

She closed the office and walked me to the other side of the airport to see if my luggage was there, and it was. All the bags had made it, a miracle. The JetBlue agent checked the tags – the Delta lost luggage agent was content to let me simply walk off with whatever luggage I wanted – and I took the luggage home. I was really glad to change clothes after wearing the same thing for almost 24 hours.

To sum up:


Delta’s Answer

JetBlue’s Answer

Is my flight going out?

Your flight is cancelled.

Your flight is delayed, but it’s going out.

Will you give me back my luggage? (JFK)

No. You’ll have to get it in Buffalo. Be sure to file a claim with the Delta lost luggage office there.

(not asked)

Can I have a refund?



Yes, except for a small cancellation fee.

Can I have a refund?

(Delta Atlanta)

Yes, but no receipt.

(not asked a second time)

Can I have a refund?


We don’t have a record of your refund, let me call the head office. What was the name of the agent you spoke to?

(not asked a third time)

Will you give me back my luggage? (Buffalo)

No, talk to JetBlue. They flew you, not us.

We’ll file a claim, and talk to Delta about getting it back. We’ll call you when it arrives and deliver it to your parent’s house.

Where is my luggage? (phone)

Speak to Jetblue.

(not asked a second time)

Where is my luggage?

Speak to Jetblue.

(not asked a third time)

Where is my luggage? I can’t trace it on your website with a JetBlue claim number.

Alright! I will trace it for you. What are the claim numbers?

(not asked a fourth time)

Where is your supervisor?

They are home asleep at 5:30 AM.

Not asked.

Can I have a refund?

(third ticket)

Here are your refund receipts, except for one of your tickets. You will have to call the Head Office in Atlanta for that.

Not asked.

Can I have a refund?

(Delta Atlanta)

Yes, but no receipt.

Not asked.

I plan to never fly Delta again, if I can help it. But they probably won’t let me on if I do, after this blog.

Finally: If you leave your bags with one airline and fly another, be sure to insist on a trace from the company that has the bags, or you will have serious trouble finding them again. Try to file claims with both airlines.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on August 16, 2007 5:32 PM.

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