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Day From Hell Flying With DELTA Airlines

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Flying the unfriendly skies with Delta Airlines – or My Day From Hell

Los Angeles 29./30. November 2010

The theme restaurant and control tower at Los ...

Image via Wikipedia

This trip already started out as the trip from hell when I was picked up by a taxi from the LA South Bay Yellow Cab company. As always I had my taxi reserved online, via my T-Mobile MyTouch smart phone using the “Taxi Magic” app, like I have done many times before. The taxi was ordered to pick me up at 9:15pm PST. The house numbering scheme in my neighborhood seems to be confusing for the taxi drivers (I cannot figure it out) and they always stop about 5 or 6 houses further up the street. So I eventually learned to wait outside after I get a text message that my taxi was dispatched and should be at my house shortly. When I wait I use a small flashlight to indicate to the cab driver where I am and usually they all get it and pull up to my house. I did the same this night and the cab was slowly rolling towards my house. For my feeling at little to slow, but since he was coming I was under the impression that the driver had seen my flashlight. The taxi pulled up and just went right by me and just a loud yell from me made the driver stop. When I asked him whether he saw my flashlight he said no and mentioned that he was busy looking for the address in the dark and that he did not see me at all.

I then entered the taxi after depositing my luggage in the taxi’s trunk and told the cab driver my final destination -> LAX Delta Terminal 5. He started to drive and since I had experienced in the past many time anybody not familiar with the area I am living in have a hard time finding their way out to the main street (Sepulveda Blvd.), so I usually give the driver directions, which I also did that time and twice he did not hear me but almost went the wrong way and I had to raise my voice several times to make him aware of the mistake he was about to make. Once we were on Sepulveda Boulevard, which leads right to LAX airport he seemed to be fine. When we entered the the airport departure area he asked me what airline, like I had not told him before. By the way the whole trip is not more than 3 miles or maybe 5 to 7 minutes, depending how fast we make various traffic lights.

Eventually I made it to Terminal 5 at LAX and I went straight the SkyElite Priority lane, which I am allowed to use as Delta Skymiles Gold Member. Usually there is never more than 1 or 2 people in front of me, but this time there must have been 15 people in the line. After successful checkin and picking up my boarding passes I went right away to my gate 55a via the mandatory security line and body scan (due to an artificial hip implant). All seemed to be fine and upon checking the monitors to assure my gate was still the same I did learn that my flight (Delta 1406) was about 31 minutes delayed. That meant instead 10:59pm we would leave around 11:30pm.

No problem I thought by myself, since I can handle up to about 75 minutes of delay and still be able to make my connecting flight in Detroit (DTW) to Montreal (YUL) Canada.

I decided to sit down at one of the SAMSUNG mobile phone charging stations to re-charge my cell phone to have a 100% loaded battery. For some reason DTW airport drains my battery a lot faster, even I seem to have a string signal. There for I wanted to make sure my cell phone was completely charged.

At 11pm (23:00h) the announcement came to board the plane and by 11:30pm the jet bridge pulled back from the plane and we began to taxi towards the runway for take off. For some reason the pilot did not make his usual turn onto the take-off runway but continued going and stop at the end of the field. After about 10 minutes an announcement was made by the captain via the overhead intercom and he was informing us that a probe from the right engine gave them a message that something was wrong. He said he would turn off the engine and restart, as well as resetting the probe and hoping this would resolve the issue.

I was jokingly telling the person who was sitting next to me: “Sounds like a Microsoft engine. Needs to be rebooted.”

After sitting on the tarmac for about 1 hour the pilot again came on over the intercom, telling us that he needed to go back to the gate to have mechanics looking at it and to determine whether it can be fixed. By around 12:50am we pulled up to the gate and the jet bridge was attached to the our plane.  10 minutes later another announcement was made and we were told that the problem could not be fixed and we had to change planes, and our new plane would be at gate 59 and would leave at 4am.

4am I thought, and was wondering why we had to wait for 3 hours to continue on, on a different plane that was already be parked at the gate. I just had finished my thought when my curiosity was satisfied and we were told once more by the captain that the crew had expired (what a funny term) and was already over its allowed limit of flying time for the day and a new crew had to be dispatched. We were told to see the gate agents at gate 59 upon exiting the aircraft to check our options if we had connections in Detroit and they would rebook us on the next available flight.

Instead standing in the line behind 25 or so other passengers to rebook my connection from DTW to YUL I decided to call Delta reservations and rebook over the phone. It all went smoothless and I was booked on a new flight and received my new seat assignment. After all this was done and set I proceeded to ask the representative on the phone about compensation for the inconvenience I was experiencing, since I was about to miss out on 2 business meetings, lose a days work for which I would not get paid. I am a freelance IT Consultant and only get paid when I’m working. He seemed to be open to this and asked me how much I was expecting and I thought to myself that this flight should be free and asked for $600 compensation. Remember not only am I experiencing all the inconvenience of hanging out at the airport since 9:30pm until 4am but also will lose a day of pay.

When I gave the Delta representative this amount, he replied that he only could offer me a $200 travel voucher or 20,000 Skymiles to be deposited into my frequent flier account. For a moment I was speechless and I thought I did not hear right, but when I asked him to repeat what he just said I found out that my ears heard it pretty well, and only my brain could not compensate this ridiculous attempt to pay me off this cheaply for all the hassle and lost income.

Upon telling the agent that I could not except this offer I was advised that this is all he was authorized to offer. When asking him whether I still had the ability to contest this offer after I accepted it.

I was informed that this was final and I had no chance for additional compensation after I would accept this offer and so I declined and did not take this cheap pay-off. I was hoping that maybe the gate agent had more power, since I had already received a $400 travel voucher from a gate agent when I volunteered to let go of my assigned seat and take a seat on a later flight (which was by the way 7 hours later but I was in no hurry at that time since I was traveling home) plus I received an upgrade to first class.

So I queued up in the line to talk to a gate agent. After about a 20 minute wait I finally was up front talking to a, what seemed to be, a slightly stressed and annoyed gate agent and he just told me that he could give me a $100 travel voucher and that he was not authorized to give me more. After I politely refused his offer I continued by asking him what my options for better compensation would be. He advised me that I could write to Delta Customer Support at the Delta HQ in Atlanta, GA and that they would usually respond within 2 weeks to any complaints and requests for compensation.

Rest assured, this is exactly what I will do after I return from this trip next weekend.

If you thought by now you heard it all, don’t go away. My trip and my day from hell are not over yet.

Eventually Delta provided peanuts, pretzels, cookies, water and soft drinks to everybody for free. So I grabbed a couple of bags of each, a can of Coke and found myself a place at one of these Samsung mobile phone charging stations again. Here a I met a fellow traveler from Chile who spoke no English whatsoever. Using my somewhat limited Spanish vocabulary and the Google translator app on my T-Mobile MyTouch we started to converse with each other and I learned that he was in the US on vacation and currently on his way to New Jersey via Detroit.

At about 2:35am an iPhone that belonged to another fellow traveler that was also laying there and being charged started to buzz and not 10 seconds later my phone went off the same way and by the sound it made I new it was a text message.

Now guess who sent this text message? If you guessed Delta Airlines, you guessed correct and if not I give you one more try. It was a message informing me that the flight would not leave until 5am instead 4am. The other phone by the way had received the same message as I learned immediately from the person who owns the phone. No explanation why, just that the new departure time would be 5am and we would get into Detroit at 12:08pm. This was not an issue since my connection to Detroit would not depart until 1:49pm anyway.

At around 3:30am one of the gate agent announced to everybody the same news and he even gave a reason which sounded so unbelievable I just had to laugh because I almost could not believe it. We were told that the new crew was outside the departure area and could not enter because TSA security was not yet staffed and would not be for another 30 to 40 minutes.

Around 4:15am the crew eventually made it and boarded the plane and 15 minutes later the agent announced general boarding. As SkyPriority Elite member I was one for the first to board the plane and I took my seat 21a on a Boing 737. All of sudden I heard my name being announced and was asked to ring t he flight attendant call button. Upon doing so, a flight attendant came to me telling me that I was upgraded to first class seat 7d. So I grabbed my bag, took my new seat and almost immediately fell asleep. I don’t even remember taking off and I woke up again when the captain anounced our initial approach into DTW.

From there on things went fine until I arrived in Montreal at around 3:30pm. To my surprise there was no wait at customs, which is unusual for this time of day. From exiting the plane, passing through Canadian customs, picking up my luggage, withdrawing some local currency from an airport ATM in the waiting area of the arrival terminal to picking up a taxi took less than 30 minutes. Almost a record time. Only once I was better so far when I made it in 20 minutes.

The next drag was my trip from the airport in Montreal to my hotel in Anjou (just about a 25 to 30 minute drive). It was the at the heights of rush hour when we exited the airport area. It was raining and dark. It seemed that highway 40 (or the metropolitan as they call in in Montreal) was just one big parking lot. The cab driver was jumping back and forth between the main highway and the adjacent service road to dodge the worst of the traffic. It still took an hour to get to the hotel and the cab fair which is usually around $45 without tip came to $70.

At this time I did not care and was just glad I made it. I handed the driver $84 ($14 tip for effort) and checked into the hotel.

No STOP … I am not finished.

Arriving at my room I began to unpack my luggage. Upon opening of my suitcase I found a note on top of my brown cashmere wool coat, informing me that the TSA had opened my luggage and inspected its content.

Usually on my travel I bring some toiletry items with me which I am not able to get at the hotel, which are hairspray and my Trader Joe Teatree Tingle Bodywash, my contact lens solution, as well as some vitamins. One of it is a liquid vitamin B compound. I pack all liquid items in a ziplock bag which again is packed into another ziplock back so t will not spoil my cloth if something should leak.

Guess what the TSA did. They not just took the liquids out of the ziplock bags, they also opened the bottles. Unfortunately they never closed the bottles tightly and on top of it they distributed the items between the ziplock bags and packed them in individual bags and did not double bag like I did. On top of it , they neglected to close the ziplock bags. They just rolled up the bags and returned them to the suitcase. The bags were put right on top of 2 white dress shirts and as you can imagine as “Murphy’s law” goes, one or more of the bottles leaked during the flight and soiled both shirts. I could not believe my eyes. What else could go wrong?! I took some of my bodywash, the shirts and started to fill the bath tub with hot water to wash at least one of the shirts so I had something clean to wear when visiting my client the next day. After wringing out the shirt I hung it on a chair and put it right next to the heater and went downstairs to the restaurant for dinner.

Joey, the waiter who knows me meanwhile very well asked how my day was offered me a beer on the house when he heard of my travel day from hell.

I must say this has been my worst travel experience  in over 22 years of international travel and I doubt that this day can ever be topped.


About Oliver Schmid

Experienced IT executive with over 20 years of global experience and demonstrated success in driving IT value, business and IT, reducing overall costs, and quickly executing and delivering business solutions. Member of the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals (IAOP)

One response »

  1. With the eSkyGuide app, you can get global flight schedules, tracking, an airport finder as well as contact info for the airlines/hotels and auto rental agencies. I know someone who has used it to arm themselves with alt flight info when needed before approaching the desk and getting home earlier even.

    It’s worth taking a look at for regular travelers.


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