Monday, January 10, 2011


A post or so ago as a once proud and totally manic supporter of Delta Airlines I pondered their absolute incompetence in properly handling the luggage of two Dallas Friends who dared check their two bags on a Delta (DAL) flight from London, Ontario and ultimately to Dallas (DFW) via Detroit and Atlanta. Actually, they had no choice and because of a “malfunction in the fire alarm system in the baggage hold” of that aircraft(?), no bags were allowed on that flight. It was a recipe for disaster. The saga continues.

When we last pressed the Internet flesh one of the two bags had been recovered and was delivered however early in the morning two days later to an alternate though favored Dallas location. The other bag was nowhere to be seen and not on Delta’s pathetic radar despite the fact that a Delta passenger from Louisville, KY traveling to and from some other venue had telephoned our Friend (and Delta) with the news that he had the bag. That bag was delivered by our Kentucky Angel to Delta at the Louisville International Airport and then just as mysteriously as it reappeared - dropped from sight.

Delta’s incompetence was further highlighted by the airlines attempt to duck further responsibility ostensibly because they had, after all, by their proud chest-thumping admission delivered two bags. It apparently wasn’t a factor that the two bags didn’t belong to them and that there were two other bagless and probably equally upset Delta customers. Efficiency expert and consumer advocate Clark Howard, also of Atlanta, has a name for it – Customer Disservice. By that time the bag had been given up for lost by its owner.

A sane, nameless though highly motivated and conscientious Delta employee, however, saw the madness in this farce and in an absolute angst as if searching for the Holy Grail started turning over the Delta baggage claim system and came up with some answers. The now and once again mistagged bag initially went from London to Detroit and then inexplicably (apparently the norm) delivered to Louisville where our Kentucky Colonel intervened. The bag apparently sat in a less than euphoric state for several days until Delta continued their mishandling by inexplicably sending the bag onto Memphis, Tennessee where it was sent on to (are you ready?) London, Ontario where it again sat and was not recognized until our Delta staffer intervened.

The bag was put on a plane once more for Detroit where it had to yet again pass through US Customs who without any problem identified the owner and in great comedy telephoned him to ask whether he had any tobacco products to declare? Though they knew he didn’t since they had to open the bag to retrieve his name and contact information, at least there was confirmation that the bag was in transit and hopefully on its way back to Dallas.

The bag ultimately arrived and was delivered to its owner. The Delta attendant apologized admitting that their system was terribly broken even pondering if it was retrievable (give her a medal).

Delta’s timing was impeccable making an announcement while our bag was arcing back and forth between Canada and the United States that they were increasing their fares and baggage handling fees. Ah capitalism, ah profitability - at what cost? This all on the backs of customers who in many cases do not have long haul choices.

We know that all the major airlines even including stellar performer Southwest have had problems handling baggage and the statistics point that out – in spades. While Delta improved slightly in 2009 and then again this last year they usually rank midway in the pack though at or near the bottom of the three majors. It would appear that Delta is starting to benefit from their merger with Northwest which was usually ranked among the best airlines for luggage handling. Delta even with that boost, however, hasn’t kept up with their competitors. It would seem that they need to put their new Northwest associates in charge of their baggage program and hopefully that’s the direction that Richard Anderson, current Delta and former Northwest CEO has chartered.
Believe it or not, I have confidence that he will…

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s monthly Air Travel Consumer Reports (which tracks baggage complaints and other pertinent performance metrics for domestic airlines) reflects that the overall number of travelers reporting mishandled luggage dropped this year. Even so, it remains a significant, unacceptable number.

While some folks might tend to congratulate the airlines for stepping up their game many more analysts are cautionary and aren’t giving any kudos to the airlines for the drop in complaints. Rather, they attribute the so called increased efficiencies to the distressed economy and the fact that there are fewer flying travelers and those folks are choosing to carry on their luggage, thus avoiding the continuing, escalating (even as we speak) fees that all but one of the carriers now require for checking bags. Bottom line: most airlines do a poor job and this time it was Delta’s turn at the point.

The mouthpiece for the airlines, the Air Transport Association (ATA), following the old mantra, when attacked – deflect, puts all the blame on the US air traffic control system (ATC) for baggage problems. If we are to believe the ATA the inefficiencies in the ATC spawns the delays causing flights to miss their connections and the resultant lost baggage. While we will concede that this is surely part of the current air transportation environment, other seemingly more responsible and savvy parties say the airlines’ antiquated baggage handling facilities and procedures, overwhelmed and undertrained baggage handlers who misroute luggage coupled with poor morale and lousy work attitudes are at the core of the problem. Would that all the airlines bought into their customer-care responsibilities as espoused by one airline, “We all knew we had to run an extremely efficient airline in order to retain loyal passengers.”

Of course the great irony here is that many airlines given the opportunity to forge positive business relationships are woefully losing the PR and customer service battle and ultimately alienating present and potential customers with their insane policies (some exceptions – Southwest and Alaska Airlines). Since we are now mostly paying for our baggage service (exception–Southwest) you would think that failing to provide that service might prompt a refund? Sorry, that’s not an option. So now you have angry consumers who feel that there is no accountability and are not likely to put themselves in that position again.

For many Delta Airlines has become the current poster boy and symbol of incompetence, ineptitude and seeming indifference to their customers. Truth be said, they are not alone and this does not bode well for the industry that is mostly just going through the motions. The tip of the iceberg is when you have executives earning exorbitant salaries in the multi-millions of dollars even in unprofitable or marginal ventures attempting to manage long term line employees who are faced with minimal salaries without cost of living increases, reductions in wages and dwindling benefits. This is a recipe for disaster and we feel given the adversarial relationships that many airlines have with their employees is a continuing part of the problem though we note that Delta has remained mostly union-free over the years. It would be nice to see fellow Texan Richard Anderson, Delta CEO to be Undercover Boss for a week, say in his baggage handling area.

Not without surprise Delta after a twenty year commitment ceased all service to and from London, Ontario, Canada as of January 4, 2011 no doubt as response to this poor service - OK and perhaps profitability. Ah, light at the end of the tunnel.
Now where did I park that horse and buggy…


Ned Buxton

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