Just thought I would share a note I’d sent to Delta Airlines on my travel experience from Prague to the U.S.
September 04, 2011
Delta Air Lines, Inc.
P.O. Box 20980
Atlanta, GA 30320-2980
Dear Madame or Sir:
On August 30th, 2011, I flew from Prague, the Czech Republic, to New York City on Delta flight 0211. In spite of the understandable delays caused by Hurricane Irene, the flight went smoothly enough until we arrived at JFK International Airport. There, things began to go unnecessarily awry; and I can imagine that the many foreign visitors arriving in the U.S. must have gained a very poor image of the country – and of Delta.
Let me explain.
Following debarkation, we were herded down a dingy and poorly lit corridor and were eventually split by country of origin. The hall that I went down was labeled, in several places, with “U.S. NATIONALS AND RESIDENCE.” If I were snide, I would say that I was very glad that I am a U.S. national, because if I were a “residence,” I would have people living inside me, which I would find intolerable. But, on a more serious note, what are foreign visitors to think? Those with limited English will be confused. Those who are fluent will be amused. Both will be contemptuous of “those illiterate Americans.”
The next issue arose during luggage pickup. There were two more or less concurrent arrivals – from Prague and from Budapest. The luggage from Prague was to arrive at carousel 3, which seemed fast asleep. However, someone ultimately noticed that Prague luggage was showing up on carousel 4. (Maybe it was the other way around, but you get the picture.) This is a mistake, but an understandable one. No one has control of the process one hundred per cent of the time.
Unfortunately, the Delta employee who sat on a perch between the carousels made matters worse. As many tired and disgruntled people reported to her that they could not find their luggage, she finally picked up the microphone and began to scream, in heavily accented English with poor syntax, that the luggage from Prague was arriving on the carousel labeled with the flight from Budapest. (Of note, I am a non-native speaker of English. I have no problem with accented English, but the poor syntax, which made her very hard to understand, contributed significantly to the already tense situation.)
Once done with her announcement, the Delta employee actually jumped off her perch, chased down one of the elderly complainers and began to scream at him that his grumpy behavior was wrong, unacceptable; much like an immature teen mother upbraiding a child for being normal. She then returned to her perch and tried to explain to another elderly traveler, who spoke limited English, where to go and what to do after he finally got his luggage. I understood what he wanted: he desperately sought to know where to find his connecting flight. But the Delta employee yelled at him (as if volume contributed to clarity) that he first had to go through passport control, through that door over there. Not a word about connecting flights. Needless to say, after several screamed attempts at explanation, the man turned away in disgust.
This Delta employee was obviously the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time, and she contributed significantly to the confusion. Again, the result was a poor initial impression of the United States and very poor impression of Delta.
Next came a very tall gentleman under a sign that read LUGGAGE CONTROL. When I approached him, he simply stuck out his hand and stared somewhere past my left ear. Because I thought I understood the meaning of the sign, I tried to hand him the receipt for my checked luggage. This he refused, and after a silent standoff, he finally deigned to speak to me, telling me that he wanted that. That turned out to be the customs form which had been previously checked and, I assumed, was no longer needed. I handed him the form, (inwardly) shook my head and walked through the door…
…into the questionable embrace of two young Delta employees who were chitchatting with one another and occasionally managing to tell the stream of arriving Delta customers something like “non-Delta to the left, Delta flights to the right.” Because I did not yet have a connecting flight, I asked one of them if I should go to the right so I could arrange one. She condescended to take time from her conversation with her pal to tell me “non-Delta to the left, Delta to the right.” I explained (again) that I wanted to book a connecting flight, since I live in Virginia. She replied: “Thank you very much” and returned to her conversation with her friend. I persisted, and she finally got the message. “You want Delta flight?” she asked in a seemingly incredulous manner. By that time, I had had enough. “Not any more,” I replied loudly, walking off to the left into the fresh outside air. I took the airport train to the Federal Station, rented a National car (very competent and cheerful service, by the way!) and drove home, free at last – yes, free at last! – of Delta.
And that, ladies and gentlemen – poor organization, incompetent employees with minimal human relations skills, and unacceptably poor use of language – is how you lose previously loyal customers.
Michael J. Kubat
P.S. If you do reply to this missive, please do not insult my intelligence by telling me that some of those people were TSA, or JFK, or any other kind of employee. It all happened in the Delta terminal and is therefore altogether your bailiwick.