Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Here’s my evidence for believing Delta Airlines thinks your money is toilet paper—and that their passengers are toilet paper, too

I used to love to fly. I took my first commercial airline flight alone when I was 16. I may recently have taken my last. Or at least my last on Delta.

Plenty of bad things have already been said about Delta by irate people who’ve dealt with them. For samples go here, where you’ll find, among other things, a passenger saying that Delta hacked her e-mail for advocating on behalf of Delta passengers.

Or go here for a story about people whose heads were about to explode over the “screw you” treatment they got when Delta lost their luggage.

Or here, for a tale of their inconsistency in matters related to security rules and regs.

45,601 enraged Delta haters can't all be wrong

Or just google “Delta Sucks” and you’ll get (at least as of this writing) 45,600 posts relating to irate former Delta passengers. Well, make that 45,601. I’ve got my own blood-boiling story.

On Sunday, December 27th, I boarded Delta Flight 481, with a listed flight time of 5 hours and 49 minutes from JFK in New York to Mexico City International Airport. As soon as I was in the air, I learned that Delta doesn’t serve meals on this flight. At least not in Tourist.

Well, okay, I understand. Times are tough. Delta’s trying to survive. And anyway, they were selling food for the flight. I didn’t mind buying it. What did they have?

Care for some junk food with your junk airline?

Umm, cookies. Cookies is a meal? Well, uh, potato chips? I repeat the question. Trail mix, then. Sorry, so far as I’m concerned that’s still junk food.

Well, they did have one “meal” for sale aboard the flight. A cheese plate. Oh goody! I love good cheese. I ordered it.

“That’ll be seven dollars,” said the flight attendant.

The little plastic box seemed mighty small for a “cheese plate” worth $7. I can get a whole wheel of imported French Camembert for that price. When I opened the itsy-teensy plastic box, I found one small slice of Swiss-like cheese, one equally small slice of what I think was supposed to be cheddar cheese, and one slice of mystery cheese. There were also four—four!—grapes and four crackers.

But what the hell. I reached for my wallet to pay the flight attendant. I yanked out a $5 bill and a couple of singles.

“Sorry, this is a cashless airline,” said the flight attendant.

Well, I had suspected for some time that Delta is going broke, but totally cashless?

“You’ll have to pay by credit card,” explained the flight attendant. “We don’t accept cash.”'

Now wait one effing second!

Who is Delta to flout U.S. law?

It says right on all the dollar bills in my wallet—and all the five, ten, twenty and fifty dollar bills, too—that “This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private.” In other words, United States law says you can use cash to pay for anything.

So I guess Delta thinks the laws of the United States don’t apply to Delta. And if the laws about money don’t apply to Delta, maybe they think the laws and regs about airline security, flight safety, the treatment of passengers and human resources don’t apply to them, either.

I might have considered that statement an exaggeration.

Until the flight back.

We had been vacationing in Oaxaca, Mexico. It’s a one-hour flight from Mexico City. On the return trip we flew Aeromexico back to Mexico City where we caught Delta Flight 484 to New York City. Well, that makes it all sound rather streamlined. It wasn't.

Chaos at the Delta gate

I don't know who's to blame for what here—whether it was Mexican security inefficiency, TSA inefficiency, or Delta inefficiency. I don't even know who all the people who stood between us (The New York Crank was traveling with his beautiful girlfriend) and the boarding gate were. But here's what happened.

1. When we got off the plane from Oaxaca, our hand luggage got x-rayed, we got magnetically scanned, and I got patted down. What's up with that? They don't want terrorists getting off airplanes and blowing up their own underpants in the souvenir shop?

2. When we entered the Delta departure area, our hand luggage got x-rayed again, we got magnetically scanned again, and I got patted down. Moreover, my solid crystal deodorant (not a liquid, not a gel) got confiscated. That same crystal deodorant has flown in my hand baggage with me—twice to Paris, once to San Francisco, all the way to Oaxaca and then part of the way home before somebody decided it was contraband. Or are the Delta people just making it up as they go along? I can tell you this: nowhere before boarding any flight in Mexico did anyone ask us to take off our shoes. I guess shoe bombers only blow up their shoes when they board in U.S. territory. Meanwhile, the guy behind me took a one-liter bottle of water that had just purchased in the terminal aboard with him. Or at least he said he bought it in the terminal. I mean, is that security, or what?

3. Our baggage got x-rayed, and we got scanned and patted down again just before boarding the plane. Furthermore, the Delta employees (I assume they're Delta employees) at the gate took our airline tickets with our luggage receipts attached and told us to move on. We had to stand there and insist they give us the tickets back. They resisted a bit before they gave in.

Good thing, too.

Our luggage stays in Mexico

There was no luggage waiting for us at the baggage carousel at JFK in New York. We waited. And waited. And waited—along with other passengers who had boarded Delta in Mexico City via connecting flights from other cities. We all had the same problem. No luggage.

Finally, we went to Delta's lost luggage office. The Crank's beautiful girlfriend handed our two luggage tags to the clerk there and explained the problem. He glared up at her suspiciously.

"Why are these two luggage tags stapled together?" he asked. What did he think he had just discovered? A terrorist plot to staple receipts?

The Crank's beautiful girlfriend explained that this was what the security people at the Mexico City airport did to the tags before they handed them back to us.

"Oh," was all the clerk replied. He filled out a big red ticket and handed it to us. "You'll have your bags within 24 hours he said.

24 hours on an extremely slow clock

We let 24 hours go by. No bags, and we were ready for bed, so we let it go until the next day. Next morning, still no bags. Finally, 48 hours later, the Crank's beautiful girlfriend started calling Delta.

I won't bore you with the details of trying to get a live person at Delta to give you a straight answer about the luggage that never got off the plane. Suffice it to say that some hours after she began calling, the beautiful girlfriend finally reached a woman who said rather casually, "Oh yes, your baggage got to the airport yesterday afternoon. We'll send it tomorrow."

It arrived in the wee hours of the next morning. But wait, there's more!

Opened, searched, scuffed and stolen

I opened my bag, to find all the zippered closures that I had closed were opened. Somebody had been rummaging through my stuff. There was only dirty laundry in there, and somebody had decided it wasn't worth stealing. But just to show that you can't keep a good thief down, that somebody had unstrapped the Tumi luggage tag from the outside handle of my bag and kept it.

And then, just for good measure, he or they took some kind of sharp or rough object and gouged a huge scratch across the bottom of my bag.

The beautiful girlfriend had bigger problems. Someone had taken about $500 worth of her jewelry, plus her camera.

Is this Delta's fault? It could have happened while the bags were in the possession of AeroMexico. But JFK and other US airports are notorious for theft of baggage contents, too. And the baggage sat around at JFK for at least 12 hours before Delta brought it home to us.

A bureaucratic form from hell

At any rate, Delta's legally responsible for processing a claim about all this. The beautiful girlfriend called Delta (more waiting on the phone) and was told to go download a lost baggage claim form from Delta and fill it out.

Trust me, it was the form from hell. Actually, don't trust me. You can see it for yourself here. There are over 70 boxes to fill in information Delta demands, including completely irrelevant stuff such as what you do for a living, whether you've ever filed a claim for lost baggage before, and the weight of your bag. Do you know what your own bag weighs?

Plus they want your receipt for your lost luggage (it's not enough that you've already presented it at the lost baggage counter when you got off the airplane) the number of your ticket (did you remember to save your ticket after you got off the plane?) and the original receipt for each item valued over $250. Do you have a receipt for that camera Aunt Martha gave you for Christmas?

Why this story matters to every potential Delta passenger

Obviously, Delta's management doesn't give a damn. Lose luggage? They'll do anything but promptly answer your call, find your luggage and get it to you.

Put in a claim? They'll stonewall you with bureaucratic forms and ridiculous demands.

Get hungry on the airplane? They'll charge you—which I suppose they have a right to do—but then they still ought to sell real meals on flights longer than three hours, and give fair value for the money they're charging.

But Delta doesn't seem to give a damn for their passengers. Which leads me to suspect they also don't give more than a minimal damn for the people who pilot and maintain their planes, or for air safety. Searching passengers three times and then losing their luggage is not a sign of vigilance. Or of meticulousness. Or of anything save chaotic management, greed and desperation.

Delta's acting like an airline that's going down the chute. I don't know what that says for their airplanes, but I don't ever want to be aboard one again if I can help it.

Update: On January 12, Delta announced that the airline was upping its baggage charge. From now on, they'll charge you $23 for your first bag, and $32 for the second. Continental Airlines followed suit. There was no word on whether passengers could charge Delta for lost luggage, but don't count on any.


Buce said...

"United Airlines sucks" gets you 87,500.

Anonymous said...

You write week but you're a moron. Flying isn't a right, it's a service you acquire in the free market. For a guy that can afford tumi bags you should be able to afford to buy a sandwich in the airport and bring it with you.
In trends of the security dipshits in Mexico, you actually believe that's delta's fault?

The New York Crank said...

Listen anonymous,

Flying is certainly a service, but it comes with certain implied assurance – such as the pilot knows how to fly, and that the airline won't lose my bags. And since I bought my entire travel through Delta, that airline was responsible for the security of myself and my property during all flights and transfers.

Your remaining argument boils down to two points: 1. That people should carry their own sandwiches when they fly because the airlines can't be trusted. And...

2. I own Tumi luggage.

By the way, how free is the airline market? It is, regulated you know. Should we get rid of the government regulations?

For example, should we get rid of airport flight controllers who tell planes when and how and where to take off and land? Should we deregulate requirements for aircraft maintenance and send people up into the sky with the assurance that if the plane crashes and they're killed, they'll have the option of never flying Delta again?

Have you thought this all through. Do you even have a brain to think with?

Yours very crankily,
The New York Crank