Every job I’ve had in my lifetime has centered around a philosophy of customer service. Not just “good” customer service, but truly exceptional, relationship-oriented service, which is probably why this story still resonates with me nearly five years later.
The story takes place on a Friday spring morning in White Plains, New York, waiting for a plane bound for Chicago. The plane was a couple of hours behind schedule due to a mechanical issue that kept it at the gate in Chicago, ultimately resulting in the airline pulling the plane out of operation and replacing with another.
The gate agent notified the restless passengers that the new plane was en route, but had a weight restriction that would require four passengers to take a different flight scheduled for later that afternoon. In return they would be offered a $200 voucher for future travel on said airline. One man reluctantly volunteered, however no one else stepped forward after several more prompts from the agent.
After several unsuccessful attempts to recruit additional volunteers, the agent sharply addressed the crowd of passengers, stating that he still needed three more volunteers, and shouting “WE HAVE NAMES,” while waving the flight manifest overhead in his tightly clenched fists. While this might sound like a slightly embellished version of the actual events, I assure you that this is exactly as happened.
After flashing back to a Seinfeld episode and a slight chuckle, the experience quickly turned as the plane began to board, with still only one volunteer. As the first zone of passengers made their way toward the gate, the agent pulled aside a young couple traveling together, looked at the flight manifest, told the man to wait and the woman to board the plane. You can probably imagine this escalated pretty quickly as the woman was completely distraught about being separated. “Don’t worry…you’ll ‘probably’ get on this flight, but for now, stand over there,” the agent snarled at the man.
Once again, the agent addressed the crowd stating that more volunteers were needed, and again shouting “WE HAVE NAMES.” Not having earned status with this airline at this point in my traveling career, I was pretty sure that I would end up being among that group of four that would be pulled from the flight, so it was with great trepidation that I handed the agent my boarding pass. Much to my surprise, I was on my merry way to the plane!
I board the plane, take my seat, and wait for the remaining passengers so that we can finally get on our way to Chicago. Boarding door closes, the plane backs away from the gate, and the crew finishes their pre-flight checks – YAY! Hold on…not so fast! The plane proceeds back to the gate, while the flight attendant calls out three names and asks them to push their flight attendant call buttons so she can locate them.
The three passengers are then escorted from the plane and told to wait on the tarmac for their checked baggage and other items that were valet checked at the gate. So, here are these poor three people standing on the tarmac waiting 15 minutes for their bags while a plane full of people are glued to the windows watching this take place. I felt completely mortified for the way they were treated – with complete disrespect and unnecessarily humiliated. A complete customer service nightmare!
That was the last flight I’ve taken on this airline, vowing never to give them a dime of my business again. In the big scheme of things, losing my business is entirely inconsequential, however for this airline and its customers, this level of “service” has become all to common, resulting in several unflattering stories in the press, and at least a couple of lawsuits, too.
And so began my relationship with Delta, and I absolutely love them, so I guess I can thank that “other” airline for doing me a favor in the long run.