Unlikely angel at Delta customer service, no thanks to Delta

by Karen Cummings on August 17, 2010


We never know what form in which an angel may appear. But we all know that, when in distress, discovering an angel at airport customer service is a blessing. More than a dozen Delta Airline passengers encountered a small miracle at customer service one day this past week at LaGuardia Airport.

A young Italian couple with very little English had their many questions answered. And, they were escorted to their gate in order to receive the food vouchers they were entitled to because their flight had been delayed.

An older gentleman was first directed to his gate. Then, when he panicked after realizing that two of the five travelers he was with did not have seat assignments, he was assisted to resolve the issue.

A young woman got help finding another flight so she could make her connection when her original flight was delayed.

All this was done patiently and with the utmost courtesy, but, surprisingly, not by a person on staff for Delta.

A friend of mine, the mother of a former Delta employee who still receives discounted flight benefits, was trying to get to Florida to be with a sister battling cancer. Flying out of Boston, she found she couldn’t get on a flight to Atlanta as everything was overbooked. So, she opted to go to LaGuardia to see if she could find a connecting flight there.

While waiting at LaGuardia, she went to an unattended Delta Help Desk, where she was able to log onto the computer to check Delta flight information.

Diligently searching to find a way to get to Florida, she was surprised to glance up to see that a line had formed at her desk. Since she wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, she asked the first person in line if she could help them. She has been flying for many years, and was surprised at the amount of information she had stored!

One by one, she answered their questions, looked up the information they needed, and sent them on their way. “The Italian couple was a little difficult as I don’t speak Italian and they only had a bit of English, but we got through it with lots of gesturing,” she said. “They were extremely appreciative, and promised to learn more English before returning to the USA.”

Maybe my friend is just nicer than most people or it’s her “caretaker” personality, but she says she had a lot of fun. “It made the time go by faster and it was great to help everyone — they were all so nice, but most of them were clueless and couldn’t find anyone to help them,” she said, “and, you know, I was quite good at it.” She only had to call her daughter (the former Delta employee) once to get an answer to a particularly difficult question.

In fact, all was going well and my friend was about to assist the next person in line when a bonafide Delta customer service representative came out and tried to shut her down.

“This customer service station is closed, and this agent does not work at this airport,” the woman said sternly to my friend and her fellow travelers, as she tried to shoo them away. Those still waiting for help were told to use the telephones on the wall to get the assistance they were seeking.

The dejected, even scared, looks on the people’s faces got to my friend, so she motioned for them to just stay there while she warded off the, as she described her, “mean” Delta representative. “I just have to look up one more thing to get my flight to Florida,” she said, “and then I’ll be gone.”

Once the Delta person left, my friend finished up as quickly as possible with those still waiting for assistance, making sure that they all got the answers they needed. She found out her own information and then left her temporary Delta customer service job.

Now, I’ve encountered actual airline employees who have been extremely helpful, but then I’ve also sat for hours with no information and no one to ask. Perhaps airline customer service is now like the Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates — “You never know what you’re going to get” (like the people on Steven Slater’s JetBlue flight). I’m sure the people my stranded, savvy traveler friend helped were glad they ran into her last week. Too bad that it takes small miracles to discover this kind of service these days.

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  • OTC

    So it all started when an unauthorized person decided they’d go behind the counter and start playing with a computer they did not own and had no right to be using?

    If this story is true, which I doubt since a non-employee somehow managed to logon to the computer, what she did isn’t kindness it’s a crime to acess a computer network with out permission.

  • http://www.tripso.com/author/leocha Charlie Leocha

    No crime here. Most of those who fly on airline passes have some kind of computer access that allows them to list themselves for flights and to see the actual plane passenger loads to assess their possibility of getting out standby. Even the real Delta customer service rep who arrived on the scene saw nothing unusual or out of line about this standby passenger using the computer systems.

  • Kelly

    I am confused. She isn’t a Delta employee but LOGGED on to a Delta computer and rebooked flights for herself and others? How was she not ushered off the premises? And why did the Delta employee who called her out on it not get a supervisor? This doesn’t make sense!

  • Dawn

    DELTA = Don’t Even Leave The Airport or Don’t Expect Luggage to Arrive!

    I was stranded at the Atlanta Airport due to Delta’s AWESOME-ness (not!) and they could not have been LESS helpful if they had tried! I was told conflicting information: stand in this line, no that line, no use the phones over there, these phones don’t work, go back to stand in that line….. all the while, I was on my mobile with an equally un-helpful Delta rep, mostly on hold…. when I finally got to the counter, initially I was told there was nothing they could do. I explained that, no, there was PLENTY they could do! Get me a toiletry kit, a t-shirt to sleep in, and book me room at a near-by hotel which I would be paying for. PLENTY! I watched other passengers walk away with NOTHING! But I got what I asked for, and so did anyone else who overheard me!

    Customer service is the only thing on holiday these days. Which is why I’ve taken a job that doesn’t require me to travel and I RARELY travel for leisure. I used to LOVE travel! The airport/airline experience just SUCKS any iota of joy right out of travel.

  • Peter

    I think you will find that most “airline” computers these days are net driven – no longer the “CRS” of yesteryear.

    You have to log-on to list yourself. Once log-on it is amazing what information you can extract. I do not believe that she was accessing live reservations. It sounds more like she was accessing flight information and terminal info.

    I have done the same from my laptop at airports where agents were a commodity. I sat in LAS for three hours and answered easily 40 questions before an agent showed at the gate.

    The agent was thrilled and surprised that I knew what I was doing. Thirty years in the industry has to account for something besides senility.

  • SOPHIA

    I think Delta has been “angel” to me many occasions My phone was left on the plane coming from Amsterdam. and I cleared the International terminal already,So I told at the desk I suppose to depart from to MGM, that my celphone was on the plane that came from Amsterdam ,
    The Delta Rep got on the phone and 30 minutes later they hand delivered to me at the gate I was waiting my phone,I think that was a angel to me , and I fly Delta only now for the last 5 years THE BEST in my book

  • Joe M

    My guess would be she used a shared account. It’s often done in situations where it’s “within 4 walls” (no public access, which is arguable in this case) and where there is high turnover and less than computer savvy people. There may be one account per airport, or even one global account that provides limited access – hopefully.

    If that’s the case, it could very well be that company policy allows for access to former employees as a courtesy since it allows them to self-help while the “real” CSRs “help” the paying passengers. Though in this particular case, CSR seems to be a misnomer. (So the acutal employee just abandoned everyone standing there obviously needing help? Now that’s the service I’ve come to expect from Delta. IMO a true CSR would have taken over helping the people instead of just telling everyone to go call a help line.)

    Of course, none of this gives me warm fuzzies about the security of my personal data shared with Delta. I’m not going to hold it against someone trying to be helpful when she didn’t have to. Delta, on the other hand, needs to review their system access policies — and fast.

  • Jennifer

    For those concerned about a security issue, I think you should be more upset with the fact that Delta allowed someone to get into their system that easily who was not an employee…even as Charlie says, they allow those on airline passes to do so. But shouldn’t the access be limited?

    In any case, this woman helped people who needed it. It’s a story that truly points out the problem at airports. Airlines focus on setting up kiosks that “help” you check in but they can’t always answer questions. They have internal computer systems that are set up to fix problems such as misconnects and that should automatically assign seats, but as a travel agent/tour operator for the last 12 years, I know these systems to be flawed.

    The agent who came out and shooed this woman away should be fired. It was obvious that she was needed to perform customer service to these paying passengers and if it wasn’t her job, then she should have immediately gotten someone else to help or steered these folks in the right direction. She should have been embarassed that a woman who was not an employee was able to assist her customers better than her.

  • dcta

    At first glance I find this a heartwarming story, but then I note that she is the mother of a former employee. The employee, while employed, can get into the computer system but regardless of whether being able to use passes, should not have access to the actual Delta system! (I wonder whether she wasn’t actually logged into the internet and on DL’s consumer site? If she was just a rather sophistical DL site user, she could have done everything she did right there.) Regardless, I have to wonder whether the TSA would frown on this woman having access to PNRs?

  • Frank

    I can go on the “internet” and LIST MYSELF for a flight as an airline employee. Username and password is all that is needed. It even lets me know how many seats are available and how many other employees and their seniority dates are listed. I dont have to bother an overwhelmed gate agent for assistance.
    I love to see co-workers step up like this. I’ve seen it many times over. We all know how understaffed our co-workers are and feel compelled to help out.
    Nice story, Karen.

  • Hapgood

    The “mean Delta representative” clearly needs a talking-to from executives. She overlooked a golden opportunity for Delta. Here was this VOLUNTEER, providing for free the customer service for which Delta used to pay employees. What an idea! If anyone wants to donate their time to Delta’s beleaguered executives and shareholders, they should be encouraged rather than “shooed away.”

    Delta should be encouraging as many unpaid volunteers as possible, and perhaps even giving them an official volunteer training course. With a volunteer program, Delta can tout its unique customer service, which it offers at no cost to the shareholders! With enough volunteers, they might even be able to lay off even more employees, and pass the savings on to their executive team as well-deserved bonuses.

    Hospitals owned by for-profit corporations still rely on volunteers to provide patient comforts that would otherwise be an unacceptable drain on the Bottom Line. So why not airlines?

  • Annette

    I’m really conflicted on this. While I appreciate the effort she expended trying to help fellow passengers, and while I agree the agent who came up should not have just sent people away and should have tried to help, the fact remains that this woman who was not and never had been a Delta employee was using their system and in effect posing as an employee. Did she bother to correct the Delta rep who said “this agent does not work at this aiport” by telling her oh I’m not an agent, I don’t work for Delta at all but my daughter used to?

    Why does this make me think of those Holiday Inn commercials?

  • Karen C.

    Just to clarify, my friend told everyone repeatedly that she was not a Delta employee, but the people she helped were truly desperate. They had no one to turn to and they were incredibly grateful to find a real person who sincerely tried to answer their many questions. I think we sometimes forget that many people only fly once a year or even less and that they can get terribly confused.

  • Scott

    The MOTHER of a FORMER employee access a computer system at a live desk? There is ZERO possibility that this story is accurate.

    As one poster said, perhaps she was on something web-based to check flight loads, but the rest of this story is unquestionably “enhanced.”

    Most employees on travel passes do NOT have access to a live system. Only the ACTIVE employees who normally have access to these systems in the course of their jobs would have access. For example, maintenance workers, engineers and ramp personnel would not have access to this system. They don’t use it for their work.

    All of these “scenarios” could be accomplished by a very nice person looking at a departure monitor. The rest is a lovely work of fiction.

  • Shanit

    Who’s to say she was even giving them correct information? My dad was a dentist, can I go sit in the waiting room and shell out dental advice? Sounds like she was more of a liability than an ‘angel’.

  • Adele

    This story doesn’t sound unbelievable at all. She pointed some people to the right gate (Anyone with an internet connection can look up a gate). She got someone seat assignments (again, if you have a PNR anyone with an internet connection can set you up). You don’t need any special company access to do that. It’s great that she helped these people out, however.

    That said, it is not unusual for furloughed employees or retired employees to retain some flight benefits from the airline, based on their contract. Since most everything is web based these days, the former employees would have to have some sort of company account that allows them to check loads and create PNRs for themselves and their families. It sounds like this was the type of system the woman was logged into. It also probably allowed her to check gate information.

    Personally, I was once waiting on standby (as a revenue passenger) and I had no luck getting out for several hours. The woman with whom I’d been chatting suddenly got up and said, “I used to work for the airline. I wonder if my password still works.” She went behind the counter, clicked away on the keyboard, and a few minutes later told me, “the next flight has plenty of seats.”

    I find the story completely plausible and the woman was trying to be helpful. Hopefully her kindness will catch on!

  • Tony A

    There are lots of question. Thank God for someone that cares and took the time to help!

  • Dianne

    I am writing in response to all the negative comments about this story. I am the sister of the person referenced in this article. I am in the midst of cancer treatment in Florida, chemo, etc. Luckily for me my sister is able to fly down to help me with privileges to fly standby on Delta. This story is completely accurate! The day that she flew to LaGuardia she was up at 4am and tried all day long to get to Florida to help me, she called me at 9pm and told me she was unsuccessful and had to return home. I was in tears just thinking of the fact that she spent all day trying to get here and help me , top that off with the fact that she tried to make me feel better by telling me that she was helping all these people with their travel problems and really enjoying the fact that she was helping people. When her friend approached her about submitting this article to bring to light the lack of customer service and caring while flying we thought it would be a great idea. Now after hearing some of these comments I would never have believed any caring, thoughtful respectable person would ever come up with some of the comments that are presented here. My sister is an ANGEL and anyone who had the privilege of meeting her has been blessed, as I have. Get a clue , this is people helping people , what are you thinking, life is toooooo short!!!!!!!

  • Angel at LaGuardia

    Thanx Tony…I’m glad to see there is someone else in the world that would agree to help people!!!!!!!!

  • Jim_J

    Over the years, I have had more negative experiences with Delta employees at LGA and JFK than I have had at all of the other Delta airports combined. When you can find someone who could help, they are often rude and transmit the feeling that really don’t want to be bothered about your problem. There appears to be a corporate culture of scorn for passengers at these two airports that should be quickly addressed by upper management. By contrast, I now give my business to Southwest whenever I can and have never had a negative experience with their people either on the ground or in the air.

  • Nobody

    Union-Bustin Scab! That’s what she be!

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