Saturday, August 18, 2012

I flew to Detroit to sleep in the airport!

Recently, I was scheduled to go to Chicago for a few days to a business conference. I never made it there. I flew to Detroit and back again in a 24 hour adventure that was not of my making. Here is how my 24 hours went.

I arrived at the airport and checked at the Delta counter. My flight was from Albany to Detroit and then on to Chicago. The flight should have taken a few hours. At the check in desk, I was told that the flight was rescheduled from 4:25 to 4:55 p.m., but that there were no worries as there was still plenty of time to make my connector flight in Detroit. After we boarded at the later time, we pushed back and ran out to the runway, where we were stuck for over an hour and a half. We sat out there so we wouldn’t lose our position as next in line according to the pilot. The pilot also said that the reason for delay was instruction from the air traffic controllers in Detroit. They told us that traffic was stopped in Detroit and no one was landing there. So we sat in Albany.

After we landed, late, in Detroit, we sat for some time because there was not an available gate to taxi to. After we found a gate, we had to wait because no one was sent to drive the gangway to the plane. The pilot at that point, apologized and said we should complain to

There was no one to greet us as we came off the plane and after waiting for some time for a second ticket agent to come out and help at the gate where we landed, I was told to go to the help desk as they (the gate agents) couldn’t help. There was no information on our connections that we had missed.

I walked to the other end of Detroit airport to the help desk. It was quite a hike. Upon arriving I was greeted with a line stretching out for hundreds of feet. One of my fellow travelers, also waiting in this queue said he had counted over 1,000 people in line! We were stretched out along the corridor in the Terminal B area, where we could see people lined up to get into the help desk area halfway down a long corridor.

After standing in line for almost two hours, we got far enough along to see that there were only two people at the help desk. Everyone was more than a little cranky. You have to understand, this line stretched way down the B corridor and then snaked into the help area and went into a serpentine line set up to wind around like a bank teller line, back and forth. By the time you came far enough to see that the line didn’t end when you got to the help desk area, I had been in line for two hours. At no time during this wait did we receive any info from anyone with Delta. At the entrance to the help desk area, there were scanners so that you could scan your ticket or boarding pass and get electronic help or information. I scanned my ticket as I saw on the flight information boards that there were two flights to Chicago that were cancelled, but there was still one flight that may be late enough for me to catch. I thought that Delta may have booked me on a later flight after it became clear that I would miss my scheduled connection. The electronic scanner spit out a paper stating that no info was available and I should call an 800 number. I did that as did my fellow line dwellers, all of whom knew each other pretty well by then. I got a person on the phone and she asked me for my line number. I told her I didn’t know what that was and asked where I would find it. She told me to look on the ticket. I said there were a lot of numbers on the ticket and asked which one she was looking for. She said to look on my itinerary.  I told her I only had a boarding pass and not an itinerary. She reiterated that the number was on the ticket. At this point I overheard another person in line giving a number so I told her the similar one from my ticket. She was not helpful and seemed to treat the call as an annoyance. She found my info and asked me to hold. She came back some time later and told me that I had been booked on a flight at 5:50 p.m. the next afternoon. I told her that I needed something earlier because I needed to be in Chicago for a morning event. She put me on hold and came back to tell me that this was all they had. I told her that this was unacceptable and I wanted her to look at transferring me to another airline. I couldn’t believe that it would be that difficult to get from Detroit to Chicago. She asked me to hold and after a long wait, came back on and said I was booked on an 8:52 p.m. Delta flight the next night. I asked her what happened to the 5:50 flight and asked about other airlines. She told me that they weren’t going to put me on another airline and that none were available because traffic was backed up from today (Sunday). She also disputed that she had given me any flight other than the 8:52 p.m. flight. We actually had an argument where she denied giving me any info on a flight that we had talked about just a few minutes earlier.

I then told her that this was unacceptable and I wanted a full refund for my ticket so that I could make other arrangements. She refused and I asked who I could talk to. She said she would get a supervisor. I was then placed me on hold for approximately another ten minutes. After coming back on the line at that point to tell me I needed to continue holding, I was on hold for another ten minutes. She came back to tell me that she had talked to a supervisor and there was nothing else they could do for me. I told her that this was unacceptable. I also told her that I was not blaming her, but that I had close to a half million miles on Delta and the reason I hadn’t booked with them for a few years was because I couldn’t remember the last time I had a flight that was on time or that my baggage had arrived with me. I told her that she wasn’t being helpful and I wanted to speak to a supervisor directly. I was placed on hold.

By the time I talked to a supervisor, I must admit I had a bad attitude. However, so did the supervisor who argued with me. He told me that he would refund my ticket except for the portion that I used, from Albany to Detroit. I insisted on a full refund stating that the ticket was of no value. He said, well, I was in Detroit, I had used the ticket and must pay for it. I told him that I knew I was in Detroit. I didn’t want to be in Detroit, I wanted to be in Chicago, but because of them, I was in Detroit. He said that wasn’t his fault nor the airlines fault that flights were delayed into Detroit. I told him I knew that, but while they were able to let me know (after I arrived at the Albany airport) that my flight was changed to 4:55, they didn’t let me know that there were considerable delays into Detroit. If we had been taken back to the terminal in Albany to wait for the hour and a half that I sat on the tarmac, I would have explored my options there. I would have looked into later flights knowing I was going to miss my connection. I may have decided not to take a trip that was useless without a connection to Chicago. That was their fault to keep us waiting on a flight that they knew was going to miss connections.

I also told him that Delta had no one at the gate to help us once we deplaned, and hadn’t any info on changing our flights so that we could make arrangements or consider alternatives. Even having someone to direct us to the help desk center would have saved time for the people amassed around the gate desk. I told him that hundreds of people were in line at a help desk that was woefully understaffed with just two people, and after 2 ½ hours in line, I was restricted from finding alternative flights myself because of the lateness of the hour. I pointed out that I had spent a lot of time on hold because there were not enough people taking phone calls on their 800 line. I told him that all this was Delta’s fault. I also said that my time in Chicago was valuable if I attended meetings for two days and they were not helpful in getting me there at all. Since I was going to Chicago for two days and the airline couldn’t get me there until one of those days were over, it was a waste of time and money to go to Chicago. I reiterated that I knew that weather or air traffic decisions weren’t Delta’s fault. However, not having information, making decisions to keep us waiting on the tarmac, understaffed help desks, long waits or no answers on their phone line, and no attempts to book us on alternative flights were all Delta’s fault and that is not a way to run a business. They couldn’t deliver a product and in any other business, you would get your money back. He argued with me and was pretty rude. He said it wasn’t his fault that there were only two people on the help desk on a Sunday night, but I pointed out that if flights had been delayed all day, they should have anticipated this. He said he can’t make people take overtime and come in. The conversation pretty much went downhill from there.

At any rate, he reiterated that he was cancelling the remainder of my flight and would give me a refund for that. I told him I was calling Amex and placing a hold on the entire payment. He was unimpressed.

After hanging up with him, I stood in line for approximately another twenty five minutes. People around me were getting angry and one man was hung up on by the person on the 800 number while yet another was placed on hold for quite a while to talk to a supervisor that he never ended up talking to. At this point, one of the two women working the help desk came out and asked for everyone’s attention. She said she didn’t know what we wanted but it was going to take forever to talk to everyone. She said nothing could be done that night so we should all go find hotels and come back tomorrow. She said we could stay in line, but that is what she would tell everyone once they got to the help desk. Someone shouted that we were waiting for hotel vouchers because of our missed flights and the fact that we weren't leaving Detroit that night. The woman said that the delays were due to air traffic controllers in Detroit and that they weren't giving vouchers because this wasn’t their fault. She said they weren’t responsible and we should go someplace. She had a list of hotels that she waved at us, but said she heard everything was booked. She also said that we couldn’t even get luggage because the terminal was closed for the evening and there were hundreds of bags sitting in luggage claim that would take a long time to go through. She also told us that almost everyone had gone home for the evening.

At this point, I had been in line for three hours. I gave up on the “help” line and went to baggage claim. I found another very long line. I stood in this one for about 45 minutes. When I got to the claim counter, I was told that no one was getting bags tonight. I told this woman that I was a diabetic and needed my meds in my checked luggage. (I know that I should have kept them with me, but the flight with connections should have taken a couple of hours and I thought, “What could go wrong?”)

There was a very nice guy behind the counter and he took my claim number and told me to sit in the area. He also asked me if he could do anything else; did I need water or food or anything else. He was very nice and it took him almost an hour, but he found my bag and I was able to take my meds. The people at the luggage claim desk were very nice and a big thanks to the sky cap who helped me out.

So now it was after one o’clock and I didn’t have a hotel room or a flight. I called my wife and daughter and asked them to check flights out in the morning. There was nothing from Detroit to Chicago, so I had them check Detroit to Albany. A Delta flight the next day would have sent me to Atlanta to get to Albany and it was $1,300.00! Finally, my daughter found a Southwest flight to Albany with a stop in the Baltimore Washington International Airport. That flight was $210.00, so we booked it at around 1:30 a.m.

Next I called the Palmer Regency Hotel (A Hilton Hotel) and told them I wasn’t there (obviously) and that I needed to cancel my reservation that I should have had since the day before. They couldn’t have been nicer or more accommodating. They said they understood that weather sometimes prevents travel and they cancelled the entire reservation without a charge. What a change in service after dealing with Delta officials. Thanks Hilton!

I then took the shuttle to the North Terminal and camped out outside of the Southwest ticketing check in. There is a lot that goes on in the terminal in the early hours of the day. I was trying to cat nap, but the floors were being swept with machines and the announcements about increased security and “not taking luggage from a person you don’t know” evidently play 24/7! I wasn’t the only one sleeping in a chair as there were fellow travelers, some with children roaming the hallways of the airport.

Finally, at 4:00 a.m., I got into line with a bunch of other people at the Southwest counter. We traded Delta stories. The Southwest people came in around 4:30 a.m.and were great. It cost me $25 to check a bag at Delta (a charge that was not taken off my refund). It didn’t cost anything on Southwest. I was on a plane by 5:30 and we left on time for BWI. We arrived on time and after an hour wait, I boarded another on-time flight back to Albany.

Having left the house around 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, I arrived home shortly after 1:00 p.m. on Monday. I realized that my 24 hour adventure was nothing more than flying to Detroit to sleep in the terminal before flying home.

So that the day is not a total loss, I am thinking about getting a t-shirt that states, “Delta East Coast Tour” and it would list Albany, Detroit, Chicago (with a circle and a red slash through it), Washington, Baltimore, and Albany. If I get a full refund form Delta, that is what I will use the money for.

I know that Delta is not responsible for the actions of air traffic controllers or the weather in the USA. But they could be better prepared and could care about their passengers. Here is where they failed. Delta should have been working on rebooking our flights early on. They could have had people at the gate to assist passengers and they could have beefed up their help desks. They used to do this. I was proud to be a Delta medallion customer. No more. They don’t care about people and it shows. That is disappointing. Even if I receive a full discount (like that’s going to happen), I still had to pay for parking, food, a baggage charge, and my lost time which has a value. I certainly can’t charge my client for a meeting I didn’t make, so this 24 hour excursion cost $12 for parking, $244 for the Delta flight to Detroit, and $210 for the Southwest flight home, plus gas, time, and lost business. Thanks Delta.  The sad truth is that Delta doesn’t care about that. They used to care. For me, I am now a Southwest customer.