On Friday night I took my Mom to JFK Airport in NY for her flight back to Brazil. She was travelling on Delta Airlines out of their Terminal 4. Delta’ s Terminal 4 is new and checking in is very efficient. The wait time was under 5 minutes.
For some reason I was more nervous than my Mom this trip, and I wasn’t even travelling. I feared Delta would not allow me to accompany her to the gate. She looks amazing for her age (79 years), and she is normally a dynamo but the truth is she gets nervous and confused when travelling. It doesn’t help that she knows little English. Normally when I ask to accompany her they say no and want to put her in a wheelchair. It would be a great idea if she accepted that suggestion, but she doesn’t. She gets offended and hurt; after all she is able to walk. I can understand how she feels now that I am starting to feel the years in me.
I explained the situation to the agent, well truth is, it involved more than explaining, it involved a lot begging and pleading. I made sure to mention that I am a SkyMiles Silver Medallion (not a big deal, but something) and the proud owner of a Platinum Delta American Express (again not a big deal but it shows my support for the Delta brand. I also let the agent know that Delta is my airline of choice, which is!
The agent, after some consideration gave me a gate pass. I wanted to go over the counter and hug and kiss her, but I think that would not go over well, so I mentioned how much it meant to me and profusely thanked her. One would think she just handed me a winning lottery ticket. To me being able to accompany my mother and provide her with peace of mind is priceless. She always fears gate changes and delays and missing the announcements.
We go through security, which for some reason they put us in a line where it is not necessary the removal of shoes and jackets and standing in the x-ray with your arms up. We feel extra lucky.
We find the right gate, Gate 37. We seat and get comfortable as we know we have over 2 hours to kill as we are always at the airport many hours in advance.
After 20 minutes I hear an announcement that the gate has changed from Gate 37 to Gate 22, and the flight time from 9:29 to 11pm. Mom had no idea that whatever they were saying was about her flight. That is exactly the reason why I like taking her to the gate.
We find gate 22 and sit down, knowing that we will have a long wait ahead of us.
I am probably one of the most understanding passengers as delays and changes to not bother me. Of course they are annoying but they do not mess up my day and my mood. Delays and other issues happen to any airline, what set airlines apart are how they handle those occurrences.
Delta is not perfect and at the end of this post I will mention an area that I think needs improvement, but how they handled this delay I think it was awesome.
What I applaud Delta on was making sure that the passengers were comfortable and well-informed (ok there is the language issue that I will be mentioning at the end, but they tried). They let the passengers know that the reason for the delay was the waiting for a part for the windshield wiper that was en-route from Atlanta. I am not a big fan of being told exactly what the delay is when it involves something mechanical but that is just me. I know most people want to know all details and perhaps there is some kind of law that say that airlines must have full disclosure.
What was surprisingly and welcoming was all the food and beverages they gave to passengers, and how gracious they were when anyone had a question. For what was supposed to be a less than 2 hours delay I expected nothing. So getting snacks was a treat! It also made me suspicious that perhaps we were looking at a delay that would be much longer than 2 hours. (The flight time changed to 11: 30 later. I think they started boarding at about 11, and it took off after midnight)
They set out a cart with all kinds of beverages and another cart with all kinds of snacks, such as crackers, chips, granola bars, cookies, candy. Later they passed a basket with chocolate (always a winner in my book). Later they offered a delicious ham, cheese and arugula sandwich, fresh and delicious. By then I had already over indulged on the snacks so I took mine home and ate the next day. They also gave passengers playing cards.
Perhaps airlines are waking up and realizing that a little can go a long way. In the 30 years I have been traveling there were plenty of delays and I don’t remember ever getting offered anything.
My mother told me that after she had boarded the plane they continued their awesome customer service trying to make passengers comfortable by offering extra pillows and blankets, etc. My mother was sleeping at the time the dinner was served, but later the flight attendant made sure to check on her and see if she wanted her dinner. And in the morning when she refused breakfast he once again showed his concern. She felt special.
As her daughter I am grateful for the extra care. As a passenger I feel valued! I care that my mother had a wonderful experience traveling with Delta, even though in the end, the delay (waiting to board and in the plane) was 3 hours.
One area needs to be improved though. Delta needs to get a Portuguese speaking person to be at the counter during the boarding. Most of the time they don’t have anyone and there is always an issue with a passenger, and in those occasions another passenger needs to step in to help with translation. On this one occasion they had a passenger make the announcements. Her Portuguese was awful. I don’t even think she spoke Portuguese, I think she spoke Spanish. The effort is appreciated but it is just not professional and not what is expected from an airline of this caliber.
Brazilians are travelling more and more overseas (as opposed to a few years ago when a trip on a plane anywhere was just for the rich). I venture a guess that 90% of the people traveling to Brazil on Delta flights are Brazilian. A lot of them don’t speak English, so it just makes good business sense to ensure that when they travel next they will think of Delta.
At the end of the day what my mother and I remember most is not the delay or the lack of Portuguese, but the caring attitude of the personnel. It is not about the food that they served, but it is the message that it sent. It told passengers: we care about you and we are trying to make an unpleasant situation better.
Way to go Delta! I applaud you on the continued improvement in customer service. You continue to be my airline of choice!