I have so much to tell you about my trip to Atlanta for Conversations with Coca-Cola, but first I have got to tell you about my experience at the Detroit airport last night. My flight from Atlanta to Detroit on Delta airlines went completely smoothly. I was then supposed to be on a 7:30 p.m. flight to Lansing, a trip that takes, and I am not kidding, twenty minutes. Everyone boarded the plane, stowed their bags, fastened their seat belts, and then pulled out a magazine or their kindle or went to sleep or whatever. I was reading People and minding my own business until it occurred to me that we hadn’t even pushed back from the gate yet. I looked up to see two maintenance workers standing at the cockpit. Yeah, that’s never a good sign.
Within a few minutes, the pilot was on the intercom telling us that our plane had a mechanical problem and they were going to have to take us off and put us on a different plane. The flight attendant then pointed out that there was another plane at a nearby gate, so we would just have to go back to the terminal and walk two gates over and get right back on the new plane. Everyone got up and we all walked over to the new gate, sat down, and waited to start boarding. And then it got all kinds of crazy.
The gate agent announced to us that our original flight crew had gone over their allotted hours and weren’t available to fly us now. Delta was trying to find us a Greyhound BUS to drive us the 92 miles from Detroit airport to Lansing airport. She kept telling us to sit down and wait. People were getting angry. One man told her a bus was unacceptable and to get a manager. Someone else checked the next and only other flight to Lansing, it was full. A supervisor showed up and seemed very angry at having to deal with the situation, which made everything tense. Passengers started muttering about bad customer service and why weren’t they telling us what they COULD do for us instead of what they couldn’t. People started leaving to go rent cars to drive home, which I couldn’t do because I don’t have a credit card.
Finally a man showed up who we later learned was the manager of the entire airport, Leon Render. He took a count of how many people were left out of the original group (25) and told us he had called several bus companies as well as looked at flights on other airlines, and there was just nothing available. He finally called Metro Cab and had them send six 5-passenger vans for us and all our luggage. He then led us to a different part of the airport where there were ladies with computers, flagged down an employee and had them go grab a beverage cart so we had drinks with ice and those bags of peanuts, pretzels and cookies. It was a small gesture, but for people who had already waited over an hour and a half and were as stressed out as all of us were, it was a welcome refreshment.
He then pointed to six different people including me and asked us to step forward. I was a little nervous about why I was being singled out, but guess what? He was picking what he called “captains”, each of us would be the holder of the voucher to give to the cab driver for our van. We were also all getting a $100 voucher for another Delta flight, which is what a ticket between Lansing and Detroit costs. He said the gate agent should have done that right away. It was obvious that he was not thrilled at having to do what his employees are already trained and empowered to do, but it was a great relief to all of us passengers that he stepped up and did everything in his power to make it right.
Our original flight was supposed to leave at 7:30 pm. At 10:30 pm, Leon had finished having all of the $100 vouchers printed and got word that the Metro Cab vans had arrived. We all started walking to the ground transportation area when he realized that the passengers who had checked their bags still needed to go get them from baggage claim. Since I had my bag, I went outside and lit a much-needed cigarette and waited. And waited. One of the cab drivers stowed my bags and invited me to sit in his van, and even loaned me his phone charger so I could keep in touch with Chris. And we waited.
After almost an hour, the people who had went to baggage claim came back – without their bags. Apparently the bags had been taken off the broken plane but had not been put on a baggage carousel. In the interest of just getting he hell home, they decided to leave anyway and hope that Delta got the bags to Lansing on another flight. Everyone divided up into the vans. Before our van door closed, Leon came over and stuck out his hand. “Thank you, Mrs. Edwards”, he said to me. “Thank you Mr. G. and Mr. M.” (the two other people in my van). And with that, we were finally on our way.
I want Delta and everyone at Detroit Metro Airport to know that thanks to Regional Elite Manager Leon Render, what started out as a nightmare turned into an example of the number one rule of customer service – don’t tell the customer what you can’t do, figure out what you can do and then DO THAT. He took 25 angry and inconvenienced people and bent himself in half to get us home. We weren’t the only people in the airport, and we weren’t the only emergency he had to deal with that night. But he treated us like we were the most important people at that airport. He could have said sorry folks, you’ll have to go to a motel and fly home tomorrow, but every one of the 25 of us had somewhere to be the next morning, and he got us home.
People were talking about calling Delta customer service to complain. One girl was talking about tweeting @DeltaAssist and bitching to them. But I decided to focus on the good that came out of it. Yes, the situation was handled badly at the beginning, but I’d be willing to bet that Leon had a staff meeting that next morning and there will be a review of what gate agents and supervisors CAN do to help stranded passengers. I decided to do what I’ve been doing since 2005 – use my blog for good and not for evil So again, thank you to Mr. Leon Render and the Delta employees that assisted him in getting all of us home. Eventually.