I am writing this week’s blog after being on hold an amazing 52 minutes with the apparently overworked people working the Delta Skymiles call center. Thankfully I had a headset on, so I could get some other things done in the meantime. About 20 minutes into this marathon, I made a reservation, with exact dates and seat assignments, for a trip to Peru. (One of The World’s Cheapest Destinations.) But in a twist that would make Kafka proud, I then had to hang up and call a different number to actually have the miles taken out of my account to pay for it. And doing it on the web is not an option for international flights.
So I had no choice but to again wait on the phone until someone finally picked up. (I guess they hope you’ll forget about it and not be able to use the miles.) On this call I got patched through to someone after 21 minutes, but even though I had punched the number to choose “international,” I got someone who could only book the ticket if it were domestic. Never mind that I already had a reservation and all my information is in their system. She couldn’t help. So she transferred me to someone else who couldn’t help either because my frequent flyer number was not on her screen—it didn’t transfer with the phone call and she wasn’t able to just type it herself. She transferred me to another line so I could enter in my number again. So I was back where I started, listening to a taped loop about how great it is to fly on Delta. Two people and many minutes later, I finally got my trip booked, with a shade less than an hour gone from my life.
Last week my wife booked two frequent flyer reward tickets with Southwest. It took all of three minutes. She gave them the numbers, picked the flights, and it was done. No restrictions, no separate phone number, no time on hold. If the “discount” airlines can make it so easy, why is that so hard for the old guys?
Is it any wonder the old guys are losing money? Is it any wonder that none of the “legacy” airlines are doing well? They can blame it on bad labor deals, high fuel prices, and a travel recession, but it’s simpler than that. I have two words that explain it all: bad service. When you get treated better on a cut-rate airline than you do on the ones that used to be full service (and still act like they’re better), of course we’re all going to gravitate to the lowest ticket price. We don’t get any more for our money by doing otherwise.
A couple of weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal, there was an article about a feud between Delta and their catering company over unpaid bills and the risk of future defaults. So the catering company refused to deliver food to Delta at JFK Airport in New York one day. As a result, the planes flew across the Atlantic with no food on board except what the flight attendants could go scrounge up from a local supermarket! (Yes, including first class.) They profiled a guy who flew a total of 28 hours to India with nothing to eat but a muffin!!
Delta is so hurting for pilots that they’re bringing guys out of retirement. USAir is trying to fashion itself into a budget carrier in order to crawl out of bankruptcy someday and United is not sure what to do to turn things around except chop salaries.
So what can you do about it? Probably nothing, except making sure you use up your frequent flyer miles instead of hanging onto them too long and watching them vanish. Be careful booking a round-the-world ticket with the Star Alliance (US carriers are United and USAir). And cross your fingers for me that Delta will still be around next year so I can actually use that flight to Peru I worked so hard to book!