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December 24, 2007


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Steve Miller

Is there a more incompetently run industry today than the airline industry? Is there a road warrior out there that doesn't have a similar completely crappy customer nonservice airline story? Is there a road warrior out there that doesn't MULTIPLE stories? And they rub it in with stuff like you're talking about and the great frequent prisoner programs that lock us in to their crappy product. The sad part is it seems they really don't want to fix it.


No David, It illustrates a company that has lost it's customer-centered focus. They've devolved to the point where individual employees do not see the repercussions of making customers unhappy. I'm not picking on Delta - there are many airlines whose public-facing employees seem to believe that they could run their airline much better if us pesky customers would simply go away.

Most businesses - and a few airlines - seem to understand the value of each and every customer. Sadly Delta and others I could name do not.

Joe Beaulaurier

A sad story from your family's perspective.

A lead for you if you get a chance to go inland while in Belize, consider the equestrian ranch/hotel run by the family of a PRWebber. Info at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2007/12/prweb573681.htm.

Donna St. Jean Conti

Steve, you are so right. This IS an illustration of a company that has lost its customer-centered focus, and I would think their PR people are just cringing. David, I recently had a similar experience. I booked round-trip tickets for two elderly aunts to come see my mom for the holidays. Abouth three weeks prior to their trip, Delta canceled their return flight into their home city of Fredericton, New Brunswick. When our agent called to find out what alternates existed, she was told the airline could get them as far north and east as Bangor, Maine, a mere 130 or so miles away. Ugh!!!

Pete Brand

I had the same thing happen to me two years ago when I was taking our entire company on a trip to Florida for Christmas. I received the notification 10 days before the trip, it was horrible.

I am very aware of the hectic sports training schedule as my son plays basketball and we have the same issues 10 months of the year.

I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas despite the travel plans!

Shama Hyder

This is just bad marketing. 1st Don't Give Customers what they want. 2nd-Wish them happy travels. Sarcastic marketing? Yikes!

Oritseyemi  Emmanuel Madamedon

Sorry David,
One would wish that Delta is somehow checking out informtaion that is posted about their business so that they can quickly jump in conversation like this and at least make people like you feel better.(ref New rules of marketing and pr)
This is really bad business.
My cousin had a bad experience also but hey, what can you do?


MAN, does that suck. I'm so, so sorry this happened to you and your family. So not cool what the airlines continue to do to us consumers.

Btw, I am a new reader -- bought your book on the new marketing (I'm interviewing/changing industries) and wanted to thank you -- you are a LIFESAVER. My fingers are crossed it gets me the new gig.


What happened to you is totally unacceptable! I hope your blog can serve as a tool to create viral PR so that many people see this.

David Meerman Scott

It's been about 5 days since I wrote this post. Thanks to many of you for commenting.

Anyone from Delta Airlines reading this? If so, do you care to comment?

John Goodman

David, your story is plain awful. I've got another for you, not quite as bad but equally illustrative of US Air's marketing genius. See http://goodman.typepad.com/choicewords/2007/02/customer_justic.html.

Todd Defren

Lord, that sucks. Is that even legal? (I am sure there's some CYA disclaimer somewhere.)

My wife does all our travel planning and I just know her entire skull would lift off her neck like a rocket if this happened to us.

Sorry your holiday was ruined, David. (But, knowing you live on Nantucket all year limits all sympathies by 10%!) ;)

David Meerman Scott

Hi Todd, yes we had some issues in our house this past week. For the record, we live in the Boston area and only use the Nantucket place during the summer!


Concerned parent

Delta airlines is very misleading. did not have the same experience but i did pay 100.00 for my 14 year old daughter to be accompanied by a delta represenative at her layover in the atlanta airport. However while she was there(for 3 hours)she sat with a male PASSENGER in the airport UNACCOMPANIED. Thank God he wasnt a rapist !!! What would Delta do. Oh wait!!! They wouldnt have known.


Hey David,

I am sorry to hear about that terrible experience.

I completely relate to the whole broken and incompetent email system. I found an interesting discrepancy between amazon.ca and amazon.com email marketing practices:


John Rosen

David: It occurs to me that the airlines are NOT incompetent, just misguided. I have plenty of my own, similar horror stories, but I also know that there are a lot of hard-working and intelligent people working at the airlines.

So what's going on? They have the WRONG PRIORITIES.

Have you ever noticed that every airline constantly communicates that "Safety is our first priority?" They (and the manufacturers, the government, and the rest of the industry) have invested trillions (with a "t" not a "b") on safety. Consequently, (you could look this up) more Americans die each year from bee stings than from commercial airline disasters!

The airlines have, indeed, made safety their first and, apparently, only priority...to the exclusion of customer satisfaction (let alone delight) comfort, convenience,coherent and understandable pricing, quality of service / experience,on-time performance, etc.


K Tyrell-Smith

I transferred 50,000 American Express points to my Delta SkyMiles account a while back when my father became seriously ill and I knew there might be a funeral to attend. Often people hang on for a long time, my father was one of them, and now I am notified he has less than 4 weeks to live. Checking my SkyMile account I find the points have "expired"! That's $50,000 American Express dollars that have been confiscated by Delta. This morning when I checked with Delta a CSR told me I needed to go online and purchase 200 points for $59.13 and call back with my reference # from this transaction and that the expired miles would be re-activated back into my account. NOW I am told that the points cannot be re-activated until "after this promotion expires". What promotion? Bait and switch? Thank goodness my recourse is that I am a journalist and can let everyone read about this treatment...and then I'll call my father's nursing home and make sure they let him know not to die until April 1st........maybe this type of business conduct is why Delta is having to lay off 30,000 people........what are the chances anyone will respond to this email, much less try to solve my problem? I pray this email reaches someone who has a conscience and really would appreciate a reply. SkyMile account # 2256003308 and reference # from purchase of points is 7455056.

Tony @ Florida Rentals

You are right about this steve. Great blog. Just wanted to comment on that.


We have been loyal customers of Delta for many, many years and several times in the past used their skymiles program to take trips. In the past we have found the airline to be responsive and the CSRs to be helpful. However that does not appear to be the case any longer. I wanted to put out a warning to anyone who might be considering flying Delta or using their credit cards for the frequent flyer miles. Their customer service, along with their other services, has been rapidly declining. Our recent experience with several customer service representatives and the Delta company and website left us frustrated, angry and flightless.
My daughter has been working hard for years to graduate from high school with a college associates degree, several scholarships and as a member of the top ballroom dance team in the US. Needless to say this doesn't give her a lot of time to relax. As proud parents, and in appreciation for the scholarships she earned, we are using her graduation, not to mention the money we will be saving on tuition, as an excuse to start planning a big graduation trip.
We have saved Delta frequent flyer miles for years, flying with Delta and using their frequent flyer credit card faithfully in anticipation of a big trip. We have used these miles in the past and while it took some work and compromise to get flights, we found the customer service people were very helpful and we ended up getting flights that worked for us. We expected to have the same experience this time and had no trepidation about getting flights as we were flexible and starting our search many months ahead of time.
I proceed to the Delta website excited to begin finding the flights. I find the website, to put it simply, terrible. International flights are a couple hundred dollars just to reserve online and it's another $25 per flight to reserve them by phone, so I decide first to give online a good try. I'm fairly savvy at working around these difficult websites having reserved many flights before. I'm my neighborhood and families internet travel guru. However I found this one beyond frustrating and difficult. The calendar changed constantly (even between steps of a single session) I later learned from the developer's blog http://blog.delta.com/2008/07/31/the-award-ticket-calendar/#comments that their problem is essentially because it was too computer intensive to show all of the flights on the calendar. Their technical workaround? Essentially to show random (and apparently also some nonexistent and/or fully booked) flights, since they couldn't show them all. Brilliant guys, simply stunning intellect. When I managed to wrestle a flight I wanted into existence, through combinations of one way flights or multistop flights and by reloading the same calendar over and over, I would invariably get 'There is a problem' or 'please try your request again' when I tried to book them. This same thing would happen again, and again, and again. During this time I wrote at least 2 emails detailing my problems with the website which were answered in a slow but respectful manner. Apparently I was very helpful by providing my problems in detail so that they could better run their site. Too bad it did no good.
After several days of trying to work with the website I had some time so I called the number provided, figuring I'd go ahead and spend the extra money hoping they'd be as helpful as they'd been before. The first time I was on hold until, as the sun was sinking in the sky, I had to hang up to leave the house to pick up said daughter at said dance practice. 2 days later after unsuccessfully trying to use the website again, I called and waited on hold again until finally I got a live, though snippy, person. I was told that I couldn't make reservations because, even though I knew all the numbers, including social security and secret number on the credit card, address, phone number, mothers maiden name, the last delta flight he took and one of the flights being reserved was for him, it was my husband's account. Ok, that's understandable. I'll keep trying to use the website, I thought, and if I can't get a reservation my husband can call when he has time.
My husband called 2 nights later. By now I had been trying to reserve flights for around 2 weeks with no success, mainly because of the website who's programmers appear to be as competent as our current crop of politicians. We hoped that the CSRs were a little more competent. With the phone on speaker during the interminable wait on hold, I heard the whole conversation. It went something like this:

Husband: I'd like to reserve an international flight with my frequent flyer miles, we need to have skysaver flights as we don't have enough miles...
CSR (interrupting): What cities?
Husband: Ideally we'd like to fly from ___ to ____ around May 25th, returning around June 10th, but we are flexible.
CSR: I'm only showing Skychoice (expensive in miles) flights for those cities around that date
Husband: We have found another flight that would work, but we've been unable to get it reserved online. Your website seems to be having some problems. Are you able reserve these other flights for us?
Husband: so you recommend we wait?
CSR: yes sir, your flights are far enough out that I recommend you wait and keep checking on the website to get the flights you want.
Husband: but we are having trouble with the website. It won't let us reserve the flights that we want. We've found flights to ------- instead of ------- that we'd be ok with but we can't seem to reserve them online.
CSR: sir, I can't do anything for you that you can't do yourself on the website, and really your flights are far enough out there is no hurry.
Husband: so I should keep checking and trying to reserve them online?
CSR: Yes sir

Upshot of the conversation : Your call is important to us, please don't bother calling again. We don't have the time, energy, desire or ability to help you.

I kept trying online for flights and emailing customer service about my problems. When I do find flights that we could work with the website continues to tell me it's having problems, try again. It gives the number to call, but we've been told that will not do us any good, and it hasn't when we've tried it, so we don't call. Many flights suddenly start being “this flight was just fully booked” when I want them, interestingly many flights on different days, different places, different times are all “just fully booked” within minutes of each other, as well as the same old “We are having a problem, please try again ”.
A fews days later, Sunday September 28th, when I hop on the site for my daily try at getting flights low and behold the cost of the flights in miles has gone up ...10,000 miles Per Person !!! That's 30,000 miles that we don't have. ARGH...I'm so frustrated. Why didn't the CSR warn us that the price was going up? That would have been customer service ! Instead he encouraged us to wait. This now looks like it was not customer service but sucker the customer. This is what we get for following delta's advice and being patient with them. I start to wonder if the CSRs were coached to have people put off booking their flights until the price raise was in place and this is why the CSR was so unhelpful. That seems like a definite possibility. I wonder a little too about the website not allowing me to book for weeks prior to the price raise, but I don't want to get too conspiratorial.
My husband is home so we call customer service, on speaker phone, to explain the problems we've been having. We talk to one unhelpful and uncompassionate CSR and are passed on to her equally unhelpful and uncaring supervisor. We explain the situation, that the website would not work, that we emailed and called and that the CSR we talked to told us to keep trying on the website and that he couldn't help us with anything other than what was available on the website so there really was no point in calling. How frustrating it was that because of their website and customer service we had not been able to book flights that showed as available in several weeks of trying.
. We are told that A) they aren't responsible if their website doesn't work B) they aren't responsible for their customer service people C) This is the first complaint they have ever gotten about their website. Well that last is a demonstrable falsehood...or in other words a lie...see the comments here http://blog.delta.com/2008/07/31/the-award-ticket-calendar/#comments for just one source of complaints. It's not hard to find others if you look around online a bit. http://www.stevedupont.com/stevedupontdotcom_004.htm
She tells us we should have continued to call instead of trying to use the website and that we were only told that calling was worthless, not physically forced not to call. Well maybe we should have called, but it didn't help the times we did call and we were told, by a Delta representative, that it would be a pointless waste of our time to call. This thing was already taking a lot of our time and we didn't wish to be waiting on hold for hours for no reason. We were also told, by a Delta representative that there was no hurry to reserve, when with prices going up there most certainly was a good reason to hurry. If they aren't responsible for their website or their customer service, just what are they responsible for? Hopefully at least for their airplane maintenance.
We got no sympathy about our terrible position, which would have been nice even if they didn't believe they had fault, nor helpful suggestions from these people. Not one scintilla of compassion for our situation, just rudeness. The CSR manager said that she didn't know that the other CSR had told us these things, slyly hinting that we were lying, well ok it was pretty blatant “hinting” the way she expressed it. I offered to give her the CSRs name and the time we called so they could see if they have a recording or at least talk to him, but she wasn't interested in actually finding out what he had really said, just in accusing us of not being truthful, when she had already proved herself to be the dishonest one. I recommend if you ever call customer service at Delta that you have your handy dandy Radio Shack recording device all ready to go.
To summarize Delta appears to have at the least a website run by incompetent programmers that they do not take any responsibility for and unhelpful deceitful CSRs who are not their responsibility either. It appears to me the CSRs had been encouraged to tell people to put off reserving frequent flyer mile flights until Delta could get their new mileage requirements in place. It's possible that at worst they dragged their feet when it came to fixing their own website so that people would have difficulty, well more than the usual difficulty, in reserving flights before the rate change.
Delta is taking no responsibility or interest in the situation. You'd think they'd at least want to talk to the CSR who was so unhelpful to us. I am not a give me kind of person at all, but I do feel tricked and manipulated in this situation. I feel they should take responsibility for their employees and their website. I feel Very badly used by this company that we have been loyal to, even platinum level on some years, and I felt at the least we were owed an apology, at most some help or at least advice on how we might manage this trip with the new restrictions. If either the website or the customer service had worked we should have had our tickets weeks ago. Now the price is fixed higher and there's no way we can get 30,000 more skymiles in time to get flights. At this point it looks like, thanks to Delta's great customer service and concern for their customers, my daughter won't be getting her trip after all.

David hogard

I completely relate to the whole broken and incompetent email system. I found an interesting discrepancy between amazon.ca and amazon.com email marketing practices.


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