Delta Airlines – Getting there is half the fun…

The saying “Getting there is half the fun” became obsolete with the advent of commercial airlines.”
– Henry J. Tillman []

I hate major airlines.

Well, I hate large companies that don’t have an ounce of genuine concern for their customers, and airlines are well known for this sort of attitude.

I was in New York over the weekend with my family and we had tickets to fly to Buffalo with Delta Airlines on Sunday evening around 6:30pm. At about 1pm, we get a call (read: automated message) telling us that our flight was canceled and we would be put onto the 9pm flight. Upon calling them back, we were told that we weren’t on the 9pm flight, but would be on a 1:40pm flight the next day. (But my dad, who had changed his initial flight, but not the return flight, would be headed to Buffalo on his own on the 9pm flight.) The reason? Weather. Mmmm-hmmm, sure.

The weather in Buffalo was fine. The weather in New York was fine at the time, and though there was a little bit of rain later in the evening, it was around 9pm – NOT around 6:30pm (and how would they know exactly when it was going to rain 5 hours earlier?) – and other flights, including Delta flights, still left. They didn’t cancel the 9pm flight, they just didn’t have room to put us on it, despite the initial promise.

When we asked where this inclement weather was, which caused them to cancel a single flight from NYC to Buffalo (of the several going out that day), they couldn’t tell us. They refused to tell us.

You know what “weather” means? There are laws in the United States which require airlines to pay for accommodations for their customers when they cancel flights and delay departure until another day, as would have happened with us. But not if the cancellation is due to weather.

When we were in line trying to sort out our tickets, we witnessed many other customers in much worse predicaments than our own. One man was still trying to get back to his home in South Africa after being stranded at the airport for a couple days beyond his scheduled departure. A young girl (around 17 years old) who was in the United States on an exchange was trying to get back home to Prague, but they wouldn’t let her board her flight because she was using a printout of an electronic ticket (the type of printout that my family has been using exclusively for our air travels over the past few years). Another group of people were told, half-way through this long line, that they were in the wrong line, even though another Delta employee had directed them there earlier from another line! They were just being shuffled around, line to line, with no sympathy and no apologies.

Is this a conscious effort to break the will of passengers to make them easily to manipulate? Sure seems like it.

But “never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

These airlines aren’t geared towards ruining the customer experience. All they care about is making a profit, regardless of the quality of the customer experience, and that’s why the customer experience is terrible. It’s no different with companies like Microsoft, Rogers, Sony or many major record labels, really. The bottom line is profit, and the customer experience only needs to be maintained at a bare minimum when you have a large enough grip on the market. In other words, as long as their employees are not shouting profanities at their customers at any and every opportunity, most people will be too complacent to find alternatives. They’ll gripe and they’ll wine, but ultimately they’ll stick with the majors due to cost, comfort (as in “being used to it”, rather than being comfortable), convenience (in terms of having more flights or other services more widely available), or whatever other reasons. Often, it’s a laziness or ignorance of the alternatives. And most employees don’t have much power to change the system, so they, too, are complacent (but COMMON – show some human emotion and at least be sympathetic!!).

But I, for one, am done with complacency.

We ended up calling JetBlue and getting tickets for a 9pm flight. We got home later than we’d planned, but we got home.

JetBlue is an entirely different experience. No airline is perfect, and every business’ intention is to make a profit, but it’s obvious after flying JetBlue that they intend to make their profit by treating customers well so that they will want to fly on their airline. That’s still business, but it’s business that doesn’t neglect humanity.

Similar alternatives to heartless corporations exist in the software world. Rather than submitting to Microsoft’s business model of creating a perceived need to use their software, there are free and open source commercial alternatives whose business model is not coercion, but rather of making people want to use their software by respecting the user’s freedoms (and often producing higher quality products).

In the music industry, the Canadian Music Creators Coalition, for example, fights against the desire of the large corporations in the industry to sue their fans and impose digital restrictions management on music lovers. Independent bands like Dispatch can sell-out Madison Square Gardens in a matter of hours without the help of the majors.

I wish there will an alternative for a wireless carrier in Canada, but the state of wireless carriers in Canada is pretty sad.

Anyways, this experience has increased my desire to avoid these sorts of companies that put business before humanity, whether that means using GNU/Linux (Ubuntu is my flavour of choice), flying WestJet (or driving to Buffalo to fly JetBlue), or even if it means giving up my cell phone. Any resulting inconveniences (amongst the obvious advantages) would be much more bearable than having to put up with Delta Airlines and the like walking all over me and my family and walking away with our money.

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