I had originally expected to write a regular review of Delta Air Lines’ international service from Salt Lake City, Utah to Amsterdam, Netherlands, but what I had experienced was nothing regular. In fact, the day started out with a headache that turned into a nightmare before the company proved worthy of the challenge of stepping up to the plate and making things right.
I have the great pleasure of living in America’s Finest City of San Diego (I’m a rare native resident actually), but connecting to travel internationally is not as convenient as leaving from a major hub like LAX or ATL, especially for loyalists of Delta like me (I’m a proud Platinum Medallion member in the SkyMiles program).
Nonetheless, a flight to Amsterdam that is a continuation from SAN, such that it is the same flight number for both segments joined with a layover in SLC, appeared like a seamless way to go, as it has been in the past.
Unfortunately, this time was anything but. Storms across the country were causing cancellations and delays that pushed our departure from California back by an hour plus. Checking the Delta app confirmed that we, my parents and I, were essentially to arrive all of 15 minutes before departing on a change of aircraft at a different gate. Alas, even after scouring other options, there were no other means of arriving in Amsterdam, or more specifically our final destination of Basel, in time to make our planned river cruise. Thus we were forced to try our luck with the original.
Once on the plane, I continued to watch the app, and the departure window continued to be pushed back to the point of arriving in Salt Lake City at the same time we were scheduled to depart from Utah. Things were not looking good. The cause of the increased delay it would seem was an issue with the passenger manifest. Even though our boarding passes were scanned in with a passing green light, we still had to be manually verified with an old-school dot-matrix printout before leaving. We thought nothing more of this detail at the time.
Once airborne, we thankfully made up some time and managed to land in SLC about 15 minutes before as the app initially indicated, and the flight attendant’s plea to let those of us with the tight connection pass through first was mostly heeded by our fellow passengers. Once we crossed over to the connecting gate, we were overjoyed to realize that the next flight was delayed a bit itself and was only then boarding Zone 1. We were in the clear, or so we thought.
After reaching the front of the SkyPriority line, our boarding passes prompted a red signal this time, and the gate agent directed us to the counter for further processing, saying there was something wrong with our checked baggage, which proved not to be the case. At the counter were another three agents, one on the phone, presumably already working on the problem that we and a handful of other passengers were soon destined to face, and another two that began to work on our tickets with little explanation before one was replaced by a red-vested agent (usually a good sign as these are Delta’s top customer service reps).
Eventually, we were told that the aforementioned passenger manifest issue in San Diego caused those of us connecting to be marked as not onboard for the first leg, effectively forfeiting the remainder of our reservation. In other words, someone really screwed up clerically. Now, even though we were clearly present in SLC, our tickets were no longer valid, and our seat assignments had been given away to other passengers displaced from likely previously canceled flights.
Now, there were no more seats available onboard to give to us, and the gate agents, understandably flustered, were unfortunately also not very apologetic nor helpful. Also, understandably by this point, we were extremely upset, and the red-vested customer service agent was the least helpful of the bunch, complaining about her overtime spent into the wee hours of the morning from the preceding day instead of saying sorry for our dilemma as one in that regarded position should.
All the while, no agent was particularly forthcoming about providing us feedback about the status as they continued to try to get us on the flight.
This was all very uncharacteristic of my usual sterling experiences with Delta, quickly degrading into United territory.
The silver lining: They were able to find three volunteers on the flight to give up their seats so that we could still make it onboard (also true of our fellow “connectees” from what we gathered). True, those seats were not together as we had made a concerted effort to assign before, and only one was an ideal aisle seat with the other two uncomfortably in the middle of the plane. However, I am very thankful to the three people who volunteered to make this happen. They came through in this moment when Delta most certainly did not.
Once on the flight, it was the excellent Delta as usual, with far friendlier employees in the sky than on the ground in this instance. Logged on to the internet, I made my voice heard on Twitter, and the company also listened. I said this was unacceptable, and the representative agreed and has promised compensation of some kind when we complete our final segment. Even before landing, the purser of our flight came to each of our seats, personally apologized and, as a start, issued bonus miles to our individual SkyMiles accounts.
This is customer service, and I am once again impressed. While I am disappointed and admittedly a little sour still about the way the day started out, what I am tasting now is far sweeter and greatly appreciated. I next look forward to one day retracing this route so that I may return to write that regular review.